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Addressing the Plastic Problem

We believe in the importance of ensuring our decisions have a positive impact on our planet. Everything in the world is intertwined and each purchasing decision we make affects us all.

In this newsletter we’re taking a look at the multi-faceted ‘packaging challenge’ and how the solution might not be as simple as some of us first thought.
On the bright side, we also discuss a very clever alternative packaging that involves mushrooms!

Read on to learn more and feel free to let us know your thoughts!

Regards,

Duncan
May 2021


Duncan Sinclair - 027 487 7766
duncan@blackpine.co.nz
In this Issue:
The Plastic Problem
- The truth about recycling
- Bioplastics
- The solution
Regenerative Packaging
General overview with a link to the article on our website
 
LBC Petal - Material


 
The Plastic Problem
As new reports and statistics continue to appear concerning climate change, we feel more desperate to recycle each and every morsel of plastic we can. Recycling is one of the most environment-friendly actions that us regular folk have perceived control over – select recyclable plastics in the stores, even better if they’re a bioplastic!  It’s a small relief as we continue on our day, unaware of its final destination, as we leave that plastic packaging in the reliable hands of the recycling facility.

The reality though, is that very little of our recycled plastics really do get recycled – an estimated 9%. 

Many companies have decided on a solution that seems to solve all our problems – and it’s incredibly convincing too. Bioplastic. 
Bioplastic Bottle
Image Source (oceana.org, 2020)
Bioplastics are made up of renewable materials – such as corn-starch or sugar cane – and is perceived as being the answer to the world’s plastic problem.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Although these bioplastics are advertised as being completely biodegradable or compostable, this is only the case for some bioplastics under certain conditions. Many of these products are as resilient to degradation as oil-based single used plastic, eventually ending up in landfill.

Many bioplastics contain toxins that contaminate the quality of the other plastics it gets recycled with, destroying their potential to get recycled and ending themselves up with the rest of the world’s rubbish. Additionally, once landfilled, these bioplastics release toxic gasses such as methane, adding the same environmental problems as large-scale agriculture.

Consumers have started to catch wind of this, and the questionable effectiveness of bioplastic is now the top search result for this search term. This is hopeful - it places more pressure on companies to come up with something else.
Bioplastic
Image Source (oceana.org, 2020)

The reality is that plastic packaging doesn’t completely disappear once used and thrown away.
And the answer isn’t to add to the already existing broken plastic system, but to overhaul it completely; creating a ‘plastic’ circular economy.

This overhaul might include the elimination of plastic packaging completely (substituting it with compostable materials); or perhaps designing and engineering products with a requirement that they are recycled and increasing mechanical recycling and scaling up recycling efforts in low-income countries.

Of course, this solution can only be possible if companies take an active role in halting the use of the inexpensive, yet effective and widely available ‘Polyethylene terephthalate’ (AKA ‘PET’) – the plastic most single-use packaging is made from.  By extending producer responsibility – product take-back – and requiring the creation of a ‘packaging circular economy’, alternatives are more likely to be given serious consideration . Unfortunately, as long as cheap virgin resin for plastic production is being produced, and without legal requirement, recycling is unlikely to happen globally.

Plastic Bottles
Image Source (natracare.com)
For some companies however, replacing their plastic with bio-degradable paper-based products has been an easier move than for others – and is an excellent step in the right direction. Some companies are taking it a step further by mimicking nature and producing a mushroom-based product. See below for more information on the mycelium initiative!

For more info on the effectiveness of bioplastics and the answer to the plastic problem, see the articles here and here.

To hold ourselves accountable and inspire you, we include our office's monthly carbon reading with every newsletter! 

The month of April is
0.022 tCO2e



Mushroom Packaging
Mushroom Packaging
Companies across the world are attempting to heal our Earth by using mushrooms to tackle a multitude of planet-harming industries.
More specifically, the root-structure of mushrooms – known as Mycelium.

Mycelium gets combined with other natural substances to produce a range of biodegradable materials for a variety of applications.

This form of biotechnology follows a regenerative philosophy. It encourages waste streams to regenerate and a cycle of taking from the earth and giving back is established.


Read more below to learn how this technology is applied to packaging!



The Living Building Challenge format takes the form of a flower with seven Petals organising a project into performance areas. In our newsletters, the various topics of discussion are identified with the relevant Petal, helping to place it in context.

Signatures
From Tara, Duncan, Akshaya and Emma
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Black Pine Architects · PO Box 7204 · Whanganui, 4541 · New Zealand

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