Small AIN’T NECESSARILY BEAUTIFUL
These remarkable pictures show one form of plankton tangled in microfibers and another choked from ingested microplastic:
squaring up to the circular economy
Chris Grantham from IDEO explains the power of human-centered design and purpose-driven decisions when it comes to designing for the circular economy.
Is plastic waste just a distraction from bigger marine health issues? This article, in the journal Marine Science, argues so:
Malaysian town smothered in imported plastic rubbish forces closure of 33 illegal factories
A small, Malaysian town struggling with 17,000 tonnes of imported plastic waste (see picture at left) has mounted a protest campaign that has so far forced 33 illegal processing factories to close and leave the area. See how they did it:
If it’s true that revolutions ‘eat their own children’, cellophane was among the first to fall victim to the plastics revolution, as this BBC article explains:
Closed loop fund gets wet
Closed Loop Ocean - and initiative of the US-based Closed Loop Fund - would target plastic reduction in two or three markets in the Indian and/or the Southeast Asian region. Closed Loop Oceans launched at the Our Ocean conference in Malta last year, with a focus on preventing plastic waste from flowing into the ocean. Read more:
How Boyan Slat got started...
The plastic scourge the seafood industry needs to help fix
Plastic pollution can now be found on every beach in the world, including New Zealand’s coastal waters.
There are stark facts on the global problem – every day about eight million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into the world’s oceans and the amount is expected to treble within a decade.
Scientists estimate there are over 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean, and if no action is taken, they will weigh more than the fish by 2050.
It’s an issue that has been pushed aside in New Zealand for a long time, says Volker Kuntzsch, chief executive of Sanford, which is the country’s largest fishery and aquaculture business by revenue and quota holding.
“In India, a truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean every second and down here we feel that is not quite our problem,” he says. “But things have changed dramatically lately – the seafood industry, especially from the beginning of this year, has embarked on finding out its own impact on the oceans much better.”
The connection of the seafood industry is an obvious one – not only do they derive everything they create value out of from the oceans but they’re also behind much of the plastic waste found on beaches.
Mr Kuntzsch says the catalyst for change has been understanding that they are a food industry and are jeopardised by the fact fish are ingesting plastic on a daily basis.
“The effects are not quite known on human health yet. We understand they may not be that great but the mere thought is alarming enough for us to do something about it,” he says.
In a submission to a government environment parliamentary committee on plastic pollution this year, Greenpeace NZ cited Auckland University research that seven out of eight commercial fish species commonly consumed in New Zealand have ingested plastic and another study of 24 fish species caught in the remote South Pacific found a quarter had eaten plastics.
“Both of these studies raised serious concerns of the transferral of these pollutants from fish to human in our food supply,” the submission said.
Seafood New Zealand, the lobby group representing the $1.79 billion export industry, told the same parliamentary committee that seafood companies want to be “part of the solution and not a part of the problem.”
Fine words but what are they actually doing?
Sanford is leading the industry charge on marine plastic reduction as part of an overall sustainability programme. Its goal is to reduce plastic use by 70% by 2025 and to re-use and recycle the remaining plastic needed for its operation.
One big step it hopes to complete by year’s end is replacing 100% of its polystyrene boxes used for fresh seafood for both domestic and export sales with a recyclable cardboard alternative. So far it has converted 22,000 of them on distances short enough to cope with the increased temperatures in new cardboard packaging but exports remain an issue.
Each year Sanford uses 100,000 of the styrofoam boxes, which provide an insulating property that allows the fresh fish to travel long distances to the end consumer. Recyclable “chilltainers” are being trialled for the remaining boxes not already converted to cardboard.
At retail level, it has replaced plastic bags by wrapping fish in paper the old-fashioned way and is selling reusable cooler bags made in China from recycled PET bottles that have the slogan “Don’t bag the ocean, say no to single-use plastic.” (see photo above)
On its mussel farms it has replaced plastic lashings with plant-based eco-ties that break down naturally over time and are compostable. During the trials a lot of mussels were lost because the ties degraded too quickly.
But there is no viable replacement yet for polypropylene mussel farm floats. Sanford is acting as a repair and recycling hub in the Marlborough region, collecting and recycling around 4,500 of the floats a year rather than just dumping them as it used to and is replacing 4% of its damaged and end-of-life floats with 100% recycled ones annually.
Staff are also encouraged to take part in local beach clean-ups, with Marlborough staff having done more than 100 in the past year.
“Once you start looking at what you’re dealing with, you realise that plastic is just everywhere and the challenge is to eliminate that utilisation one step at a time,” Mr Kuntzsch says.
Sanford's mussel farmers have replaced plastic lashings with compostable ones.
New Zealand King Salmon is one of a number of Kiwi and international businesses that committed in June to using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in their New Zealand operations by 2025.
At the time, Greenpeace warned commitments on making plastic packaging recyclable and compostable sounded good “but in reality allow the rise of plastic packaging production in our lives and our oceans, all while companies pose as green leaders”. Instead, it wants to see companies reduce and eliminate single-use plastics production.
But NZ King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne says the listed company is among 10 Kiwi companies backing a diagnostic study by the Sustainable Business Network’s Circular Economy Accelerator to develop long-term viable solutions and alternatives to plastic packaging. The results will be made public next month.
The company is using a recyclable firm base tray for its wood-roasted salmon products while its cold-smoked products are contained in a recyclable soft plastic vacuum pouch. It’s working with REDcycle to introduce collection bins for these throughout the country, and the material collected will be recycled into things like park benches and kids’ playgrounds.
Mr Rosewarne says it is also trialling a plant-based packing material, Plantic, which if successful would allow the company to reduce plastic use for all its packaging while still maintaining the necessary food safety.
Other environmental activities include introducing waste-capture technology on its farms, reducing its energy footprint and water usage and using factory by-products to minimise waste.
Iwi-owned commercial fishing company Moana New Zealand has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund as part of steps to minimise its impact on marine ecosystems. On-site waste audits are conducted regularly to find areas of improvement while recycling schemes have already diverted 22 million tonnes of waste (not all plastic). Single-use plastic products are being reduced in the packaging and supply chains and polybins used for transporting seafood are being replaced with cardboard and other materials. The remaining polybins are being recycled into photo frames.
Another fishing company with significant iwi involvement is Sealord, which says it is fully compliant with maritime rules for not discarding any waste at sea while its processing and its consumer products business has a range of initiatives under way to reduce plastics use.
These include introducing a pouch recycling programme launched two years ago where consumers can send tuna pouches free of charge to recycling specialist TerraCycle where they are turned into park benches, watering cans, and waste bins. An incentive of two cents per pouch is offered to collectors with the money donated to charities or schools.
Another step forward
It’s all a good start but in submissions to the parliamentary committee, Te Ohu Kaimoana (the Maori Fisheries Trust) and Seafood New Zealand both said the problem of plastic pollution and its effects on the marine environment is one that still requires collaboration and innovation solutions from all parties.
At this stage the committee has just received evidence and not yet produced its own report.
The government’s biggest step in this area has been to phase in a ban on single-use plastic bags over the next year. It is also providing $2.7 million in funding for local charity Sustainable Coastlines to develop an education programme and a national litter database that will help show just where the rubbish is coming from. And the Ministry for Primary Industries is due to shortly release a risk profile on microplastics in the diet.
It’s all not enough for Greenpeace which wants a more “ambitious and comprehensive set of policies in a plastic solution strategy, to truly tackle the scale of the problem,” given the plastics industry is predicted to grow by 40% over the next decade.
Sanford’s Kuntzsch says he’s also getting a push forward on sustainability rather than a push-back from the seafood company’s shareholders.
“I had one investor come in about a year ago when we announced our Maui dolphin protection plan actually stating they don’t think we go far enough with what we do out there. So there is a strong focus these days on sustainability, on ethics, and on doing the right thing,” he says.
“It might cost a little more right now but it creates more value by attracting better employees, for example. When you talk to young people these days on who they want to work for, it’s usually a company that acts in a way that aligns with their values.” - from National Business Review, 6 September 2018