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Commercial Composting

Ever wonder about how much waste we really throw away each year? Well, studies estimate that 30 to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste 30 to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste, often ending up in landfills. In 2014, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found that the U.S. tosses over 3.8 million tons of food every single year.

That’s tragic because so many people in the world are going hungry. Food waste also contributes to global warming and disposing of it costs a lot of money. Using our food more efficiently would be a more permanent solution to the problem, but there are some things we can do to improve our disposal process as well. With composting, disposal doesn’t have to mean the end of food’s useful life and may even have some positive environmental attributes.

How Composting Works

Composting allows us to recycle organic materials, including many food items, yard waste, animal products and paper products. It uses a natural process that’s integral to life here on earth, the decomposition process that breaks down these materials into rich soil from which plants can grow.

Composting takes that natural phenomenon and accelerates it using one of several different methods. Individuals and families can compost their food and yard waste in their own backyards. Large companies sometimes compost their own leftover materials. Some local governments also organize composting operations, and local businesses might offer composting services to nearby residents. These services can be a perfect, easy-to-use solution to our organic waste disposal problem.

Composting Methods

Beyond simple backyard composting, there are a number of methods that large-scale composting operations employ.

  • Aerated Static Pile Composting

One of the simplest methods for composting large amounts of waste is aerated static pile composting. It involves placing well-mixed organic waste into a large pile, along with bulking agents such as woodchips or shredded paper. This method can produce compost within three to six months.

  1. Aerated Windrow Composting

Aerated, or turned, windrow composting involves placing waste in rows that are about four to eight feet tall and 14 to 16 feet wide. These rows, called windrows, must be turned occasionally so that the inner part of the pile ends up in the outside and vice versa. This method is ideal for particularly large amounts of waste.

  1. In-Vessel Composting

In-vessel compost allows for more control of the composting process and produces results quickly. In this method, compost is placed into contained spaces such as large drums, enclosed tunnels or other containers where machinery regularly turns it. This produces usable composts in a few weeks to a few months.

How to Get Involved

Other popular methods of disposing of household organic waste, such as garbage disposals, can be useful but don’t have all the same capabilities as composting. Garbage disposals, for instance, can’t handle solid items like peach pits. Regular trash collection has environmental consequences.

Composting can take care of many different kinds of waste, is environmentally friendly compared to other methods and produces a useful end result – compost that can be used to grow crops and other plants.

Many people don’t have room, time or ability to compost their own waste. For these people, commercial composting methods are the solution. Contact your local government and search for nearby businesses to see if organic waste collection and composting services exist in your area — and whether you can get some freshly made compost for your garden.

Bio:

Emily is a sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

Please note…

This post was written by the contributor.

Read more about composting, compost bins and other rotten posts HERE

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Cellophane plant derived and biodegradable plastic

Cellophane bags were often used to package candy, vegetables and convenience foods. Potato chips used to be wrapped in cellophane too, providing a nice sparkle to the package while also maintaining a good rigidity when sitting on the shelf. Cellophane is also easy to tear, reseal and print.

The disadvantage of cellophane

And yet, many packaging companies have abandoned cellophane in favor of another highly popular packaging material: polypropylene. Why? Because cellophane performs poor at low temperatures – a must for food packaging. It also has a limited shelf life, not to mention the pricing issues. In recent years, cellophane has become really expensive, more expensive than most other types of plastic.

Which is precisely why cellophane as a food packaging material has become less popular over the years. As mentioned before, polypropylene has replaced cellophane to a large degree. For a while cellophane and polypropylene were used in conjunction, thus a ply of cellophane was laminated to a ply of propylene. Now, however, cellophane is mostly abandoned altogether.

Read more here.

 A guest post from Michael Bloch blogging up on Green Living Tips.com

Green Living Tips is an online resource powered by renewable energy offering a wide variety of earth friendly tips, green guides, advice and environment related news to help consumers and business reduce costs, consumption and environmental impact .
We see many news stories about developments in the plastics industry to make these items greener. With disposable plastic shopping bags being banned in some places and consumer concern acting as the writing on the wall for the industry, it’s certainly in the sector’s interest to make more environmentally friendly plastic bag and wrap products as soon as possible.

Degradable, compostable and biodegradable plastics may seem like recent inventions, but some have been around for a very long time. One such plastic is cellophane – and it’s now experiencing resurgence in popularity.

Cellophane being plant based didn’t click with me until I was doing some research recently for a restaurant employee who was looking for a biodegradable bag suitable for use with a particular food application – it was only then that it clicked with me the “cello” in cellophane stands for cellulose – the structural component of plants.

Cellophane was invented in 1900, but wasn’t commercially available until 1912. At that point it was mainly used for wrapping candy. When moisture-proof cellophane hit the market in the late 1920′s, it rapidly increased in popularity until the 60′s when alternative petro-chemical based plastics became popular – and we all know how that worked out for the planet.

Quite a few modern bioplastics use plants, but often they use corn as the primary component. Similar to using “food as fuel“; should we be using a grain or a crop grown on land suitable for producing food for non-food uses when arable land (without further deforestation) is becoming a diminishing resource?

Cellophane has an edge here as it can be made from farmed trees or from hemp; which can grow in relatively harsh conditions.

Regarding its composting and biodegradable attributes, I’ve read various reports stating uncoated cellulose film degrades within 10 days to 1 month when buried and nitrocellulose-coated cellulose in 2 months to 3 months. Complete biodegradation of cellulose film is between 1 – 2 months for uncoated products, and from 2.5 to 4 months for coated cellulose products. In a fresh water environment, the rate of biodegradation is only 10 days for uncoated film and a month for coated cellulose film.

As far as I know, corn based bioplastics take far longer to degrade and there’s also some issues with recycling bioplastics made with corn as they are currently classified as a number 7 plastic resin, meaning “other”.

That’s the good news about cellophane; but as with most things, there are some negative aspects too environmentally speaking.

Cellophane is made by dissolving plant fiber in alkali and carbon disulfide to create something called viscose. The viscose is then reconverted to cellulose in cellophane form after a sulfuric acid and sodium sulfate bath. The cellophane is  further treated with glycerol to make the dry cellophane less brittle. The cellophane may then be coated with nitrocellulose or wax to make it impermeable to water vapor. A few nasty chemicals in that process – for example, high levels of carbon disulfide are toxic; affecting the nervous system.

However, given the amount of processing and nasties it takes to turn petro-chemicals; i.e. chemicals derived from crude oil, into plastics and the damage those plastics do long after having been discarded, it would seem to me that cellophane is probably still better environmentally speaking. Stacked up against corn based plastic bags and wraps, the better/worse distinction is a little harder to discern.

Cellophane films and bags are readily available – just run a query on the terms in your favorite search engine to locate a stockist.

Tip: When composting cellophane, scrunch it up instead of laying it flat on your compost pile. This allows for air pockets and some air is necessary when composting any material.

Trivia: another plastic product that’s been around for at least a hundred years also based on plant material is linoleum.

Find out more about compostable and other types of plastic here

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Yarn Wool

Know Your Fibres

Textiles and ultimately clothing start with fibres

Know Your Fibres
Fibres are short fine hairs that can be twisted or spun into longer thread or yarn. This may be woven or knitted into fabric.
Fibres (and then yarns and ultimately fabrics) can be can be natural, synthetic or chemically produced hybrid called regenerated fibres.

Natural fibres Are derived from plants like cotton or animals like wool and silk,
Synthetic fibres are man-made from chemicals many of which are petroleum derived.
Regenerated Fibres The base material is cellulose that can be obtained from a range of sources. It is then converted through a chemical process into fibres.

Read more HERE

Guest Post

Thanks to Jen for this introduction to natural yarns…

Knitting and crochet are very popular hobbies these days and you can find yarn in almost every craft shop. The trouble is that, whilst the common term for it is “wool”, a lot of what you will find is actually plastic, often in the form of acrylic (which, incidentally, isn’t made in the UK). Care is, therefore, needed when you go shopping.

Acrylic yarn is cheap and can be washed in the washing machine, in addition it’s available in a huge range of colours, so it’s a very common choice. However, it sheds large numbers of fibres (and all that machine washing does nothing to reduce this) and it doesn’t maintain its look and shape like real wool does. If you want to avoid plastic for your knitting and crochet there are, however, a range of options:

Wool: Probably the most obvious alternative is real wool – you know, the stuff that comes from sheep. Wool is a very accommodating yarn to work with as it has some stretch. Here in the UK it is easy to buy British Wool: check the ball bands and look got 100% wool not a wool/manmade fibre blend. I’m not going to list brands or suppliers, because there are so many, but you can buy wool from a wide range of sources, from large companies through to individual farms. Take a look at Woolsack for a comprehensive list of British wool sources and stockists. You can buy generic or breed-specific wool. Different sheep breeds produce different sorts of wool with different properties, so if you have a specific set of requirements, it’s best to do some research first: soft Blue-faced Leicester, for example, is somewhat different to lustrous Wensleydale. You can find information on-line (here, for example), but it’s best to go to your local yarn shop and feel the wool… and ask questions. Whilst it’s easy enough to buy online, it’s much better to have personal experience rather than relying on a written description. It’s also worth noting that there are those who rave only about Merino wool; however, very little is produced in Britain and there are great local alternatives such as Blue-faced Leicester. If you are looking for machine-washable wool, then you can buy ‘Superwash’ wool, but it is actually plastic-coated (the chemical used is polyamide-epichlorohydrin, known commercially as Hercosett 125). I prefer to wash my woollies in a no-rinse wool wash, such as Eucalan which just requires soaking followed by gentle wringing or pressing between a couple of towels.

Other mammal fibres: It’s possible to produce yarn from a whole range of fluffy critters: goats, rabbits, camels, alpaca, yak and many others. The fibre from each has different characteristics, and, in general, they are relatively expensive. Again, it’s best to get up close to them before you decide which is the yarn for you.

Cotton: There’s plenty of cotton yarn available and there are no issues with plastics here, unless it’s a blend (which is not uncommon). Cotton, however, is a crop that uses huge amounts of water and (unless it is organic) to which huge amounts of pesticides are applied, so whilst you’re avoiding plastic, you might want to consider other environmental issues. Of course, no cotton is grown in the UK, but there are some recycled cotton yarns available. In terms of knitting and crochet, cotton has no stretch to it and it can be rather unforgiving to work with.

Other plant fibres: Some plants, like flax and nettle, contain fibres that can be removed by a process called retting (basically rotting away the soft bits and leaving the long fibres) and then spinning these. Linen, hemp and nettle HEREyarns are made this way; indeed ‘linen’ is sometimes used as a generic term to describe this sort of fibre. Like cotton, these yarns tend not to be stretchy and so can be more difficult to knit or crochet than wool/mammal fibres.

Silk: Silk comes from insects: most commonly the mulberry silkworm. It’s sometimes available as a pure yarn, but it’s often included in a mix with other fibres to provide lustre and strength. Like the plant fibres, it isn’t stretchy.

© Jan Martin 2018
thesnailofhappiness.com

 

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Chris Woodford talks to PIR….

This month we are upping the bar with an article that’s well written  and wildly informative. Yes we have a guest post……

While trawling through the internet I stumbled across the fantastic website www.explainthatstuff.com written by Chris Woodford. It is all more than good but there was an article on plastic so pleasing that I had to ask if I could reproduce it. Didn’t I just fall off my chair with excitement when he offered to write something for the blog? So I thought I would ask all the questions that troubled me about plastic and see what he thought.

But before we begin… let me introduce the man:

Chris Woodford is a British science writer. He has  an MA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University and  specialized in physics (he  studied at the Cavendish Laboratory) and experimental psychology. Other skills include chemistry, crystallography, materials science, and math. He had his first magazine article published  in 1980  and he went on to write, amongst  others, the( best-selling), how-it-works books

 Cool Stuff 2.0 (The Gadget Book), and Cool Stuff Exploded (all published worldwide by Dorling Kindersley/DK).
Now onto the questions and the first seems kind of easy but I had never really considered it before the boycott.

 

What is plastic anyway?

 The first thing to note is there’s no such thing as “plastic”; it’s not one thing, it’s many. Plastics are many different kinds of synthetic chemicals. What they have in common is that they’re polymers. They’re mostly made of carbon and hydrogen atoms linked into basic building blocks (molecules), which then repeat themselves over and over again. That’s what a polymer is: a molecule that repeats itself. A polymer looks like a coal train made of dozens of identical trucks all joined together, often in long chains. Each identical truck is one molecule and it’s joined to similar trucks on either side.

Is there anything remotely good about plastics?

Absolutely! The clue’s in the name, really. Plastic means “nasty stuff you can’t get rid of”, but it also means flexible–and that’s the good thing about plastics. They can do all kinds of useful things for us. From the moment you’re jolted awake by a plastic alarm clock, to the moment you brush your teeth with a nylon toothbrush and get back in bed again, plastic fills your every waking moment. I’m wearing a polyester fleece right now made from old plastic bottles, typing on a plastic computer keyboard, listening to music through plastic headphones and thinking occasionally about the dirty breakfast dishes sitting in the plastic washing-up bowl.

So what’s the downside?

Everything that’s good about plastic has a downside. There are dozens of different kinds of plastics, which is great if you’re a product manufacturer and you need to find something that does a very specific job. You use quite different plastics to make water bottles and milk bottles, for example, and plastic bags are made from something different again. That’s not so good if you’re a local council with the job of collecting plastics and trying to recycle them, because they pretty much all have to be recycled in different ways. Plastics are very cheap, which means we can use them for virtually anything. But the drawback there is that we now rely far too much on disposable things that benefit no-one except the people who make and sell them. And because plastics are essentially synthetic chemicals–ones we’ve dreamed up in laboratories–there aren’t really natural mechanisms that break them down. Animals and insects don’t eat plastics. Those long chains of molecules just sit there. And they go on sitting there–potentially for hundreds of years.

Hundreds of years?!

Hundreds of years! A plastic bottle can take 500 years to break down. That’s not a timescale we can readily appreciate. A human might live 80 years, so a plastic bottle lives six times longer. Or we could think of it in a completely different way. Imagine you come across an old plastic bottle someone’s thrown into your front garden. Now if plastic lasts 500 years, that bottle could have been thrown there by King Henry VIII

Henry VIII of England, who devised the Statute...

Image via Wikipedia

on his way back from the pub! It could be older than everything in your street–all the trees, the houses, the cars, the people… everything. Now of course that’s not actually true because plastics weren’t invented in 1511. But roll the clock forward five hundred years from now, to 2511, and it’s quite possible that the person living in what’s now your house will dig up the garden and find bits of plastic you left behind. Or that a 25th-century Tony Robinson will make archaeology programmes on TV about sifting through all the random bits of plastic in a 21st-century landfill.

But  we’re recycling so much more plastic now?

Or are we? Over 90 percent of the plastic stuff we buy still ends up in a landfill. That’s bad for all kinds of reasons. Landfill is just a more polite word for litter; it’s litter on a grand scale! Not only that, it’s such a waste. Most plastic comes from petroleum–and we know oil is going to run out sooner or later. Apparently, something like 200,000 barrels of oil a day are used to make plastic for packaging, just in the USA–a huge waste, and most of it going to landfill in a matter of days or weeks. There’s also the question of energy. It takes far more energy to make disposable plastic things than it does to use the same things over and over again. Recycled plastic is much better than brand new plastic: it saves about two thirds of the energy used in manufacturing. But, quite frankly, recycling is only a little bit better than throwing things away. It’s far better not to use plastic at all than to recycle it. It’s much better, for example, to have a reuseable aluminium water bottle that you fill up from the tap each day than to buy plastic bottles of water and then very conscientiously recycle them. Where do they go after you’ve recycled them? It takes a lot of energy to transport them, melt them down, and turn them into new plastic products that may (or may not) be recycled. Far better to eliminate the plastic completely if you can.

Do plastics have to be so bad for the environment?

Absolutely not. The thing to remember about plastics is that humans created them. Chemists in laboratories engineered pretty much all these polymers and designed them to do very specific jobs. There’s nothing random or accidental about it, so why should there be anything random or accidental about how we dispose of them? In other words, there’s no reason why chemists can’t engineer plastics that can be disposed of more easily. In fact, they’re already doing just that. We’ve had biodegradable plastics for several decades and now the industry buzzword is “bioplastics”: plastics made from more natural ingredients that break down much faster when we dispose of them.

That sounds brilliant! How do they work?

A really good example is the kind of packaging you now find on many sandwich containers. Go back ten or twenty years and take-away sandwiches always came in plastic triangles that you simply threw away. Who knows what happened to them? Well most of them–hundreds of millions of them–are sitting in landfills under our feet. What a waste! And what a disgrace! Buy yourself some sandwiches today and it’s a very different story. You’re probably going to get a cardboard container (which is easy to compost or recycle) with a thin window made of what looks like ordinary, thin plastic. But it’s more likely to be a bioplastic based on corn starch (the stuff you put in sauces to thicken them up). The bioplastic has these little chunks of cornstarch embedded in it. As it picks up moisture, the starch swells up (just like your sauce thickens) and cracks the plastic into tiny fragments that break down more quickly–typically in just a few months. Things like greetings cards are now being packed in the same stuff. Other bioplastics (ones that don’t use cornstarch) are designed to be broken down by sunlight, water, or high temperatures.

Does bioplastics have any drawbacks?

It would be great if all the plastic we couldn’t avoid using was either reused in some way or recycled. Realistically, though, that’s never going to happen: most bioplastic is going to end up in a landfill, just like ordinary plastic. So we still need to think about that very carefully. Some bioplastics disappear very cleanly in landfills. Because they’re made from plants, they absorbed carbon dioxide when they grew in the first place and they release that carbon dioxide again when they break down–so effectively, ignoring the energy used in manufacturing, they’re carbon neutral: they don’t add to global warming. Other bioplastics break down and release methane, which is a really powerful greenhouse gas (much worse than carbon dioxide). That’s a serious issue. Some also leave a toxic residue in the landfill, which could cause water pollution or soil contamination. Another problem is that bioplastics can’t be recycled the same way as ordinary plastics so if they all get mixed in together in a recycling container, you can end up with a huge pile of unprocessable waste that has to go to a landfill. There are other issues too. Some bioplastics are described as “compostable”, but they only compost in the kind of high-temperature digesters operated by councils, not on your average, low-temperature, home compost heap.

So not really a complete solution?

Definitely not. You have to go back to what we were saying right at the beginning–about how many different kinds of plastic we use and in how many different ways. You can’t really make a plastic washing up bowl from bioplastic–it would slowly disintegrate before your eyes! But what else are you going to make it out of? And if you accept that it’s not something you’re going to keep forever, what happens to it when you throw it away? Ditto with a toothbrush: it’s something you have to throw away and replace (if you want to keep your teeth).

What’s the answer to that?

The way to look at these things is always reduce, reuse, recycle–in that order. So you first have to ask do I really need a plastic washing-up bowl? Can I wash up in the sink, which is what people always used to do until about the 1960s and 1970s. If I have to throw it out, can I do anything useful with it? Can I use it in the garden to collect weeds, perhaps? Can I clean it up and use it for storage? If I really have to get rid of it, can I possibly recycle it?

But for disposable packaging…?

Well, there bioplastics definitely have a big part to play. If you bear in mind that plastic bags have an average useful life of 12 minutes, but live on in landfills for 500 years, you can see there’s a real value in having plastic food packaging that disappears very quickly. Especially for things like sweets and crisps, where there’s a high chance that any packaging is going to end up as litter. But bioplastics aren’t the only solution–and they may not even be the best one. Another option is to turn the problem back on the manufacturers. The main reason we have plastic packaging is to extend the shelf life of foods so that big corporations can make more money. Okay, fine, so let them accept some of the responsibility for the “plastic monster” they’ve created. Eco groups like Surfers Against Sewage have been campaigning on this for some time, encouraging people to post rubbish they find on beaches (80% of it is plastic, incidentally) back to the companies who produced it. (They call it “Return to Offender”!) Packaging is relatively easy to trace back to the people who made it–it’s stamped with their name. So how about councils being able to fine manufacturers for litter as well as the people who drop it? We’re hearing now that the cost of litter collection in the UK is soon going to hit a billion pounds a year. Let the people who profit from packaging pay some of the costs. Then they’d put a bit more effort into educating people about disposing of waste, using less packaging, and developing more eco-friendly plastics.

What’s the one thing people should take away from all this?

King Henry VIII! Remember how long plastic lasts and what it costs the environment (in resources, energy, and litter). Use as little of it as you can. When you get rid of plastic things, try to give them another life first (use your old toothbrush for cleaning your bike, or whatever) and recycle them if you can’t. There’s no excuse for plastic litter–and throwing away plastic is almost as bad

Find out more about related matters on

And loads of other interesting stuff at www.explainthatstuff..com

You can buy Chris’s books from