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Photo: Washed Ashore.
Rosa, the bald eagle, was created by Washed Ashore volunteers collaborating nationwide despite the pandemic. Washed Ashore is a nonprofit that repurposes ocean plastic to make art and raise awareness.

Having read about Washed Ashore at the New York Times before the pandemic, I wondered how these plastic-waste-fighting artists managed to keep going during lockdown. I should have known: nothing can stop them.

Founder Angela Haseltine Pozzi showed her mettle in an early March 2020 interview with Alex V. Cipolle: “Angela Haseltine Pozzi stands shoulder to shoulder with Cosmo, a six-foot-tall tufted puffin, on a cliff overlooking the blustery Oregon coast. It is January and the deadly king tides have come to Coquille Point, making the shoreline look like a churning root-beer float.

“Cosmo endures the weather just fine, as he is composed of plastic that has washed ashore — flip-flops, bottle caps, toy wheels, cigarette lighters — all mounted to a stainless-steel frame and bolted to concrete. The puffin is a sculpture from Ms. Haseltine Pozzi’s art and education nonprofit, Washed Ashore, whose tagline is ‘Art to Save the Sea.’

‘We’ve cleaned up 26 tons off the beaches, Ms. Haseltine Pozzi said, ‘which isn’t a dent in the actual pollution issue, but we’re doing something by raising awareness and waking people up.’ …

“Washed Ashore has taken those 26 tons of garbage, all debris that washed up on the Oregon coast (the majority within 100 miles of Bandon), and built 70 large-scale sculptures and counting, including Octavia the Octopus, Edward the Leatherback Turtle and Daisy the Polar Bear. …

“[The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] estimates that eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. Marine animals become entangled in it or ingest pieces they mistake for food, such as the whale that recently washed ashore in Scotland with 220 pounds of debris in its belly — the same weight in plastic an American throws away annually.”

So having read about Haseltine Pozzi’s efforts to draw attention to this travesty through art, I wondered what happened to Washed Ashore during the pandemic. Surely, there would have been no more of Pozzi’s in-person workshops, workshops where Washed Ashore invites “the Buddhists and the Baptists, and the rednecks and the hippies, and the Republicans and the Democrats, and they all sit around the table and they all work together.”

The nonprofit’s excellent blog has that piece of the story.

“When the Covid-19 pandemic led to a national lockdown of indoor spaces in early 2020, the Washed Ashore gallery and art studios were affected much like everyone else. Volunteer activity ceased, exhibits were closed, and workshops were emptied. Washed Ashore relies heavily on a steady stream of volunteers to collect and sort debris and build parts of sculptures, accompanying our full-time staff of artists and helpers. But overnight, our doors were closed and volunteers sent home.

“Knowing the problems of plastic ocean pollution were too great to ignore, Washed Ashore looked to find a creative way to continue our mission to create ‘Art to Save the Sea’ and finding a way to still work together, but differently. …

“And so we got to work, calling on supporters and putting together a plan to unite us as the pandemic kept us all apart. [We] opened our determined efforts nationwide with a goal to work together and create a new sculpture, a symbol of unity.

“What better symbol of hope and unity for the people of the United States than a giant American Bald Eagle, the symbol of our democracy?

“The project was named ‘Come Soar With Us,’ by our Executive Director Katie Dougherty, and our team got to work putting together detailed plastic debris construction kits and instructions and mailing them out across America to over 1,550 volunteers across seven states. Their tireless participation stretched well over eight months, creating the feathers for what would be become Rosa’s impressive wingspan. …

“During a time when so much was halted, the momentum and collaboration from creating Rosa with all of our staff and volunteers was inspiring and has given our team an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment. … You can see Rosa in person at Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Virginia, from August 21 – November 4, 2021.”

More at the Washed Ashore blog, here, and at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Salvatore Laporta / KONTROLAB / LightRocket via Getty Images.
A beach in Naples, Italy, covered in plastic waste following a storm in 2018.

The pandemic unfortunately increased my use of takeout meals packaged in plastic, but today I’m back to thinking about ways to reduce plastic consumption. For example, instead of buying brands that usually come in plastic, I look for alternatives in glass: mayonnaise, olive oil, applesauce, lemon juice. Suzanne showed me a brand of yogurt that comes in glass, too. And my water bottle is glass with a kind of rubber coating.

You do have to hunt for these things. It’s not like government here is going to help you as the European Union would. This month, for instance, the EU banned many throwaway plastic products.

At YaleEnvironment360, Paul Hockenos reports, “In Europe, beachgoers have grown accustomed to the dispiriting sight of plastic garbage strewn along shorelines. Indeed, 85 percent of the continent’s saltwater beaches and seas exceed pollution standards on marine litter. The Mediterranean Sea is the most defiled of all, with researchers collecting an average of 274 pieces of plastic refuse per 100 meters of shoreline. And beneath the waves, microplastics have turned coastal waters into toxic ‘plastic soups.’

“In an all-out push to clean up Europe’s beaches — one plank in the European Union’s trailblazing efforts to address the almost 28 million U.S. tons of plastic waste it generates annually — a ban comes into effect July 3 that halts the sale in EU markets of the 10 plastic products that most commonly wash up on the continent’s shores. These include, among other items, plastic bottle caps, cutlery, straws and plates, as well as Styrofoam food and beverage containers.

“The ban is the most visible sign of Europe’s efforts to curtail plastics pollution by creating the world’s first-ever circular plastics regime. By the end of this decade, this will lead to a ban on throwaway plastics, the creation of a comprehensive reuse system for all other plastics, and the establishment of an expansive and potentially lucrative European market for recycled plastics.

“A raft of EU measures is now driving investments and innovation toward circular solutions that, according to experts and EU officials, will come to define Europe’s low-carbon economy and enhance its global competitiveness. A circular economy is one in which products and materials are kept in use along their entire life cycle, from design and manufacturing to reuse or recycling. In contrast to the current, linear system, products don’t end up in the rubbish bin, but rather are reintroduced into the production process.

“Under the EU Plastics Strategy, put forward in 2018, waste guidelines will overhaul the way plastic products are designed, used and recycled. All plastic packaging on the EU market must be recyclable by 2030, and the use of microplastics circumscribed.

The measures are the toughest in the world and have already pushed plastic packaging recycling rates in the EU to an all-time high of 41.5 percent — three times that of the United States.

“The EU has set a target for recycling 50 percent of plastic packaging by 2025, a goal that now looks within reach. And in 2025, a separate collection target of 77 percent will be in place for plastic bottles, increasing to 90 percent by 2029.

“This overarching regime will rely on the widespread adoption of extended producer responsibility schemes, which means that if a company introduces packaging or packaged goods into a country’s market, that firm remains responsible for the full cost of the collection, transportation, recycling or incineration of its products. In effect, the polluter pays. …

“ ‘The EU is taking the creation of a circular economy very seriously, and plastics are at the center of it,’ said Henning Wilts, director of circular economy at Germany’s Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. …

“The U.S., which generates the largest amount of plastic waste in the world, is awash in waste now that China — the largest manufacturer of plastic — no longer accepts imported waste; many U.S. cities end up pitching plastic waste into landfills or burning it. Congress has commissioned the National Academies of Sciences to conduct a sweeping review of the U.S. contribution to plastic waste, due out at the end of this year. …

“ ‘The 10-items ban is big. It’s not greenwashing,’ said Clara Löw, an analyst at the Öko-Institute, a German think tank. ‘There are many more measures afoot within the European Green Deal to rein in plastics and establish circularity as the cornerstone principle of Europe’s plastics economy. Even most Europeans aren’t aware of how much is happening right now.’ …

“Carmine Trecroci, an economist and recycling expert at the University of Brescia in Italy, said that external factors like the price of oil have a major impact; as long as oil is cheap, which it has been in recent years, so too is plastics production, making it all the harder to rein in. The plastics sector in the EU is big business, employing 1.5 million people and generating 350 billion euros in 2019. Trecroci said the powerful Italian plastics lobby fought fiercely to block the 10-item ban, and then to slow and dilute it. In the end, however, the EU approved the ban.”

More at Yale Environment 360, here. Vested interests are always going to fight back against measures like that, but the EU shows that common sense can prevail. In the US, if consumers boycott plastic, I think we will see companies changing.

July 22, 2021 Update: Wow, I just saw that Maine is doing what we’ve been asking for. Read this.

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Photo: Reuters.
An Egyptian nonprofit has enlisted fishermen from Al-Qursaya, an island near central Cairo, to collect plastics that have been reducing the catch.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, I recently learned about the enormity of the plastics problem in waters where people fish. The website states: “Plastic accumulating in our oceans and on our beaches has become a global crisis. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences that make up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. At current rates, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.” Yikes!

New efforts large and small are needed to reverse what’s happening. On Twitter, the World Economic Forum is promoting one of the small efforts, which is how I learned about it.

Reuters reports, “For 17 years, Mohamed Nasar has supported his family of five by fishing in the Nile River near the banks of the tiny island of Al-Qursaya close to central Cairo.

“But the 58-year-old says fishermen like himself catch fewer fish every year as the Nile has become clogged with plastic bottles, bags and other waste.

‘The fish get caught in the bottles, and they die,’ said Nasar.

“A local environmental group named ‘VeryNile‘ has asked the island’s fishermen to use their boats to collect plastic bottles from the river. VeryNile says it buys the bottles at a higher price than the general market price on offer from traders or recycling plants.

“The initiative provides a sustainable solution for helping to clean up the Nile, while providing an additional source of income for fisherman like Nasar.

” ‘This job helped us a bit. We come and collect about 10 to 15 kilos (of plastic bottles), we get about 12 Egyptian pounds ($0.7682) for each,’ Nasar said as he sat in his boat collecting bottles. …

“Another fisherman, Saeed Hassanein, said cleaner Nile water would mean more fish.

” ‘On the one hand, the Nile is cleaner, and on the other hand the fisherman now has more than one source of income,’ he said.

“With the help of more than 40 fishermen, VeryNile has over the past year collected around 18 tons of plastic bottles, most of which were sold to recyclers.” More at Reuters, here.

The World Economic Forum, which defines itself as the “international organization for public-private cooperation,” is increasingly focused on addressing the consequences of global warming, and I hope it is serious about that. It’s easy to feel cynical about the forum’s annual conference for the world’s rich and powerful — called Davos because it takes place in Davos, Switzerland — but I have to believe it’s helping to make both the problems and the possible solutions more widely accepted. Besides, I know there are many altruistic people on the staff, like my friend Kai, who was one of them several years ago.

In a recent podcast, Radio Davos discusses initiatives tackling climate change, calling the current decade “the decade of ocean science, and one in which we must get on track for net-zero by 2050.”

So there’s that. Meanwhile, in Egypt, impoverished fishermen are pulling out plastic that corporations, cruise ships, and too many individuals keep dumping.

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Photo: Mason & Greens
Store in Washington, DC, area aims for zero waste.

My friend Jeanne has been investigating more-sustainable living and has experimented with producing zero waste. I’m impressed. My small efforts have been almost completely undermined by the pandemic and all the plastic containers that come with takeout — takeout being both a break from cooking and support for our local restaurants.

Even the folks at Plastic Free Hackney, an inspiring effort in an English town, admit that it’s all harder during a pandemic. Still, idealists soldier on and will eventually triumph.

Jessica Wolfrom writes at the Washington Post, ” ‘It was kind of like a slow-moving coup on my part,’ said Anna [Marino], 32, a former seller on the website Etsy, who started researching the meat industry and the zero-waste movement. Even though they were only a family of four — [Anna and Justin] have two children, ages 6 and 3 — they knew they needed to change their lives.

“Paper towels and single-use napkins were the first to go. Then went the plastic. But as they traded traditional products for more eco-friendly items, they quickly realized that their reliance on online shopping was another problem.

“ ‘It almost defeats the purpose,’ said Justin, 43, who previously worked in cybersecurity. ‘I’m ordering something to save the planet, but in order for it to get here, it’s creating a pretty nasty carbon footprint. … And so, we were like, well, there needs to be a store around here.’

“Enter Mason & Greens, the Washington region’s first zero-waste store. … The airy shop is equal parts organic grocer and minimalist boutique, selling items such as package-free shampoo bars, organic produce and drip-irrigated olive oil. Hanging plants and shelves lined with stainless steel containers and books titled ‘All You Need Is Less’ offer shoppers a glimpse into the world of low-waste living. …

“ ‘You know it’s a movement when you don’t know everything that’s going on,’ said Gary Liss, vice president of Zero Waste USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing waste, who described the growing interest in low-waste living as a sea change in the relationship between people and things.

“Americans throw away about five pounds of trash per person per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency — 12 percent of which is plastics. … Scientists estimate that up to 91 percent of plastic is never recycled, leaving the rest to burn in incinerators, clog landfills or degrade in the oceans. Scientists have even found microplastics in air, water and food. …

“The coronavirus pandemic has only increased reliance on disposable plastics. Billions of masks and gloves made from plastics and used by health-care workers, first responders and essential workers are being discarded every month, studies show. …

“Mason & Greens, which is based in part on the bulk model, makes a point of avoiding plastics at nearly every turn. Beans and grains come in gravity dispensers. Produce is package-free. Pomberry Kombucha and pinot noir stream from a tap. The spices are self-serve.

“Customers aren’t required to bring their own bags or refillable containers, but the couple said many customers do. The shop employs a tare system that logs the weight of an empty container and then calculates the price of products by the ounce. …

“The couple welcomes newcomers into their waste-free world, but Anna routinely castigates vendors for their packaging practices — she is not above shaming suppliers who send items wrapped in plastic. … ‘I have to go through so much to get a product into the store that’s zero-waste or low-waste.’

“But living a waste-free life might soon become easier. As consumers demand more sustainable options, brands large and small are shifting to make sustainability central to their strategy. Major companies such as Unilever have pledged to halve the use of virgin plastics in packaging by 2025. Walmart, Target, CVS and other retailers are working to develop an environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic bag. And other companies are starting circular delivery services — an updated version of the 1950s milkman — where groceries and goods are packaged in reusable containers that are returned empty.”

Signing up for the guy who brings milk in reusable bottles is one way I’ve actually gotten better at controlling waste in the pandemic. Thanks to my daughter-in-law, I got in under the wire with the dairy farm as other people started lining up for deliveries, too.

Read about a variety of zero-waste shops and the blogger who fit all the waste she produced over four years into a 16-ounce Mason jar at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Ocean Voyages Institute
So-called “ghost nets” are fishing nets that have broken loose and now float freely, entangling wildlife.

There are so many things going on right now that sometimes it’s hard to remember that crises like global warming and plastic pollution are no less urgent just because illness and job losses are center stage.

Fortunately, all this time we’ve been counting Covid-19 deaths, a few people have been working on the problems that will still be around when the pandemic has ended.

On June 19, Doug Struck reported at the Christian Science Monitor about one woman working to clean up the ocean.

“Nothing pleases Mary Crowley more than to see a huge, dripping, bedraggled fishing net, ensnarled with plastic garbage, being lifted from the sea. That is progress, she says.

“Ms. Crowley, a sailor since childhood days spent in her grandfather’s wooden sailboat on Lake Michigan, has been working for more than a decade to clean up the world’s oceans. She started by urging fishermen to pick up floating plastic. Now her million-dollar effort employs drones, satellites, floating GPS buoys, sophisticated oceanographic models, a corps of yachtsmen, and an oceangoing cargo ship.

“The Kwai, a 140-foot, two-masted cargo sailing vessel that normally shuttles supplies among Pacific islands, has been plucking nets and trash from the Pacific for the past six weeks. It is expected to return to Hawaii around June 23 with 100 tons of debris, the first of what Ms. Crowley hopes will be two such voyages this summer; she is hoping to dispatch the ship for a second voyage in July.

Much of that trash will be ‘ghost nets,’ fishing nets abandoned or lost that float freely, ensnarling fish, marine life, trash, and passing vessels.

“The Kwai’s crew of 11, sailors accustomed to unloading anything from cars to concrete on isolated islands, uses winches and sweat to hoist the heavy nets from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where swirling currents gather floating debris.

“The term is misleading; the area is huge and the debris is spread out. But the Kwai is led to wayward nets in part by GPS buoys that yachtsmen and other sailors, volunteers for Ms. Crowley, have stopped mid-ocean to attach to trash.

“ ‘This work feels great,’ Capt. Brad Ives replies mid-voyage from the Kwai by email. ‘When the weather is good and the nets are flowing, there is no better work for a fine old sailing ship. Crew spirits are high and we are cleaning our Mother Ocean.’ …

“Ms. Crowley began her project as a labor of love for the sea. She runs a yacht chartering business from Sausalito, California. But her clients consistently confirmed her own observations that the ocean seems increasingly cluttered with plastic debris. …

“Every year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic is washed from the lands and is threatening to choke the seas. The United Nations has warned that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Marine mammals are routinely found dead, their bodies clogged with plastics. Microplastics – the result of deteriorating larger pieces or small manufactured beads – are now thoroughly infused in the marine food chain. …

“There are many creative ideas to clean the ocean, and Ms. Crowley supports them all. She formed Ocean Voyages Institute in 1979 to educate audiences about the sea. Over time she gathered a ‘think tank’ of sailors, naval architects, marine engineers, and fishermen. ‘We decided that one of the most harmful things going on in the ocean is the huge proliferation of large plastics,’ she says. ‘This includes derelict fishing gear, and boats and piers and car fenders.’ …

“ ‘There is debris practically every day inside the gyre,’ Captain Ives writes from the ship. … ‘The most difficult are always the big nets. … These require divers in the water to get cargo slings around them and often several lifts to get them wrestled aboard. A large net can take several hours to wrestle aboard.’ …

“Ms. Crowley has recruited a cadre of volunteers with a gentle inexhaustibility.

“ ‘As someone who loves the ocean and has had the pleasure and honor of spending lots of time in the ocean,’ she says, ‘it’s my responsibility to not have the health of our ocean held hostage by plastic garbage.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: TripAdvisor
Debra’s Natural Gourmet helps customers cut back on plastic like liquid-soap bottles. They don’t have an answer yet to takeout containers, though.

Every day I’m trying to think of ways to cut back on plastic like the good people at Plastic Free Hackney in England. How am I doing so far? Not great. Plastic is so ubiquitous. But “one and two and 50 make a million,” and there is help from like-minded businesses.

I found a dish-soap concentrate that lets me reuse bottles (etee dish soap), and now a local organic store is letting folks reuse bottles from home over and over by filling up from the store’s large dispensers.

According to Emily Holden at the Guardian, we need to cut back because recycling of plastics is not really working. No one wants them. Holden offers tips on reducing our plastics dependency.

“As plastics corporations ramp up production,” she writes, “they are also promoting a failing recycling system.

Just 9% of plastics get recycled. Traditional plastics are made from extracted oil and gas, and they contribute to the rising temperatures behind the climate crisis.

“Environment experts are increasingly calling for a reduction in plastic use, as the waste accumulates in the oceans, poor countries and even human bodies. Plastics are also burned, as China – which once accepted the bulk of America’s waste – has begun to refuse it. And more than a million Americans lived next to polluting incinerators.

“Significant reductions will require systemic change, researchers say. But there are also some easy tips for individuals who want to cut back on plastics. (If this list is overwhelming and you’re not sure where to start, collect your plastic waste for a month and conduct an audit. Cut back on what you find the most of.)

“1. Carry a reusable bottle, fork/spoon and bag …

“2. Refuse the lid on your coffee cup. … (Some coffee shops will say they are required to give you a lid, citing possible liability for burns.)

“3. Choose products in glass or cans if they are an option. Recycle those materials. … Glass and aluminum cans are much more likely to be recycled. Glass is most efficient when reused (ie. with returnable milk bottles).

“4. When possible, eat in the restaurant instead of taking it to go. Unless you have a physical disability, let your server know in advance that you won’t need a straw.

“5. If you order takeout or delivery, tell the restaurant you don’t want plastic utensils or straws. …

“6. Opt for products with less packaging. Say no to bagged lemons, apples, onions and garlic, and tea that comes in plastic packets. Choose more fresh produce for snacks to avoid individual plastic wrappers.

“7. Shop from the bulk section and use your own containers. …

“8. Use bars of soap (also available for shampoo and shaving) instead of bottles. … For an extra environmental benefit, avoid palm oil.

“9. Use a razor that requires replacing only the individual blades. … You will save money over time. Note that TSA does not allow passengers to fly with individual blades.

“10. Use a bamboo toothbrush or one with a replaceable head.

“11. Buy concentrated cleaners that can be mixed with water in a reusable container. …

“12. Choose frozen, concentrated juice that comes in cardboard tubes instead of the plastic jugs. …

“13. Don’t buy bottled water. …

“14. Buy fewer clothes, or shop secondhand. Wash your clothes less so they last longer. Hang them to dry. …

“15. When shopping online, group as many items together as possible, so you can receive fewer plastic envelopes.”

More here.

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It all started with individuals making changes in their lives to avoid single-use plastic, then moved to small shops offering plastic-free shopping. Nothing wrong with that says the UK version of Wired, but what is really needed more is for large supermarket chains to get on board.

Nicole Kobie writes at Wired, “Plastic-free, zero-waste shops — which include Bulk Market and Harmless in London, and Refill Store in Truro, Cornwall — are a utopia for people looking to ditching single-use plastics, and have even inspired (or shamed) some larger retailers into following their lead and cutting down on packaging. …

“Using reusable containers has benefits; it avoids the environmental costs of manufacturing and disposing of single-use plastic packaging and reduces littering. [But] says Simon Aumônier, principal partner at Environmental Resources Management (ERM). ‘The issue is it’s not always as simple as that.’ … The overall environmental impact can be small compared to other choices, such as reducing meat consumption.

“Here’s how to make the most of shopping plastic-free, and why it matters what you buy, where you buy it, and how you carry it home.

“Plastic-free stores require shoppers to bring their own reusable containers (or buy them in-store) in which to ferry home their pasta, nuts and other dry goods.

Shunning single-use plastic means it doesn’t end up in landfill or choking a turtle. ‘Every time you use your own container, you’re cutting down the amount of plastic you would have been responsible for,’ says Clare Oxborrow, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“However, as with the plastic bag versus reusable tote debate, it matters what you use in place of the single-use plastic packaging, and how often you use it. …

” ‘Replacing a piece of single-use plastic packaging with a Tupperware container means you’ve got maybe ten times the material — therefore you need to reuse it maybe ten or 20 or 100 times before it’s a better solution in material consumption terms,’ says Aumônier. …

” ‘Glass and metal are more robust for the long term and can often then be recycled at the end of their life much more easily than plastic can,’ says Oxborrow. ‘Because of the way the system is set up, only about nine per cent of plastic ever made has been recycled. [We] have to stop using so much plastic in the first place.’ …

“There is a reason single-use plastic is used for packaging: it works. One study shows that cucumbers wrapped in plastic stay fresh for up to two weeks longer than ‘naked’ ones. And a cucumber that gets chucked in the compost bin is a waste of water and transport (and related emissions), regardless of how it was packaged. … Pasta, nuts and the like have a longer shelf-life, so are less likely to be wasted once brought home, and less likely to get damaged in store. …

“Biodegradable plastics are seen as one solution, but [Helen Bird, resource management specialist at WRAP] warns they aren’t necessarily as green as they may seem, as they also require fossil fuels to produce and often aren’t actually compostable. ‘To a large degree, the infrastructure that we have in place at the moment in the UK is not set up to make those plastics actually compost,’ she says – meaning they end up in landfill or are incinerated.

“Budgens in Thornton swapped paper for plastic bags on bread, Bird notes, but that led to problems as shoppers couldn’t see what they were buying. Sales slumped. … The supermarket has now found the right balance, with one store offering 1,700 plastic-free products, showing alternatives can be found.

“Plastic-free stores are usually locally-run businesses, and stock locally-produced food. While that has social benefits, whether local production has environmental benefits depends on the food in question. … How you get to the store also matters. If you’re walking or taking the bus to a local zero-waste store, you’re doing it right. …

“Local, simpler shopping doesn’t require a zero-waste store, of course — old-fashioned local butchers and greengrocers also fit the bill, though many high streets now lack them. ‘A lot of them shut down because they can’t compete with the supermarkets,’ notes Oxborrow. And that means we get into cars and drive to buy plastic-wrapped cucumbers instead. …

“Sarah Laidler, an analyst at the Carbon Trust, notes it’s best to buy locally grown and in-season, and to eat fruits and vegetables quickly so packaging isn’t required. ‘But vegetables don’t account for the bulk of carbon emissions in most people’s diets.’

“And then there’s processing. Those jars of dry beans and other ingredients are light to transport and easy to store, but require home cooking. …

Rather than try to calculate the merits of canned chickpeas versus dry, it makes more sense to make changes we know work, says Aumônier, such as only boiling the amount of water needed for a cup of tea and putting a lid on a saucepan to keep heat escaping.

” ‘These things can dramatically multiply the impact of the food and they’re easily overlooked.’ Laidler adds: ‘A key step Pepsi took to reduce the emissions of its Quaker Porridge Oats was to cook them more in the factory, so it was then cooked less at home.’ …

“And that’s the core issue at the heart of plastic-free stores: there are bigger changes we could make more easily. That doesn’t negate the positive impact of zero-waste shops, notes Bird, as they act as gateways to encouraging people to think when they shop — and they help shame larger supermarkets into action.

“Supermarkets are starting to clean up their act, albeit slowly. [It’s] better for everyone if the supermarkets themselves also change their practices, so the least amount of single-use plastic is used even for those who aren’t within striking distance of progressive shops in Dalston or Cornwall. ‘Ultimately we need to see the supermarkets embracing reuse culture,’ Bird says.” More at Wired, here.

You might be interested in etee, where I just bought a dish soap I’m testing to cut down on plastic bottles and the fossil-fuel consumption involved in transporting what is essentially a lot of water and only a little soap. And for coffee drinkers who compost, consider Dean’s Beans. However, you do need a really robust compost pile to break the bags down, we’ve found.

Part of the movement to bring your own containers to takeout restaurants or as a “doggy bag” after dining out is a shop is in Providence, RI.

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Photo: Dyson
Lucy Hughes, 23, a recent graduate in product design from the University of Sussex, is a James Dyson award winner for her biodegradable plastic made of fish scales.

Today’s story is a good example of how inventions can flow from recognition of a problem. For example, most of us now recognize that plastics are a problem. A recent design graduate took things a step further and did something about it.

Rebecca Smithers writes at the Guardian, “A bio-plastic made of organic fish waste that would otherwise end up in landfill, with the potential to replace plastic in everyday packaging, has landed its UK graduate designer a James Dyson award.

“Lucy Hughes, 23, a recent graduate in product design from the University of Sussex, sought to tackle the dual problems of environmentally harmful single-use plastics and inefficient waste streams by harnessing fish offcuts to create an eco-friendly plastic alternative.

“Her solution, a biodegradable and compostable material called MarinaTex, can break down in a soil environment in four to six weeks and be disposed of through home food waste collections.

“Hughes, from Twickenham, in south-west London, used red algae to bind proteins extracted from fish skins and scales, creating strong overlapping bonds in a translucent and flexible sheet material. Although it looks and feels like plastic, initial testing suggests it is stronger, safer and much more sustainable than its oil-based counterpart. …

“An estimated 492,020 tonnes of fish waste are produced by the fish processing industry every year in the UK and it is considered a huge and inefficient waste stream with low commercial value. …

“Through research carried out on the Sussex coast, Hughes found fish skins and scales were the most promising sources for the plastic alternative, due to their flexibility and strength-enabling proteins. A single Atlantic cod could generate the organic waste needed for 1,400 bags of MarinaTex, she found. …

“Hughes said, ‘It makes no sense to me that we’re using plastic, an incredibly durable material, for products that have a life cycle of less than a day. …

‘As creators, we should not limit ourselves to designing to just form and function, but rather form, function and footprint.’ …

“The award operates in 27 countries, and is open to university students and recent graduates studying product design, industrial design and engineering. It recognises and rewards imaginative design solutions to global problems.

“This year’s runners-up are an AI-enabled wearable device to help monitor asthmatic symptoms and predict triggers, designed by Anna Bernbaum, of the Dyson School of Engineering, in London, and solar panels which can be draped over backpacks or tents, invented by Bradley Brister, of Brunel University London.”

More here.

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Rhode Island has an outstanding independent, environmental news publication called ecoRI News. Who says local news is dead?

Well, actually, it is very much endangered and requires heroic efforts by those who understand its importance. Reporting at ecoRI News, for example, played a pivotal role in the rejection of an unnecessary new fossil-fuel plant in Burrillville, after a fight that lasted years (producing hostile stickers on utility poles throughout the state). The story may have been partly about quality of life in a small Rhode Island community, but as we now know, every bit of fossil fuel threatens the whole planet.

Local news addresses other issues that have international implications. As Tim Faulkner reported at ecoRI News in April, “Plastic pollution is everywhere, showing up in the air, water, food, and consequently in our bodies.

“To draw attention to this ubiquitous waste problem, plastic-catching traps, called trash skimmers, have been installed around Narragansett Bay to collect plastic debris and other trash in the marine environment.

“The latest skimmer was recently unveiled inside the hurricane barrier on the Providence River. It’s heralded as the first trash skimmer to be installed in a state capital.

“Using a pump to draw in debris, the partially submerged plastic box catches surface trash such as floating bottles and tiny debris called microparticles. Each skimmer costs about $12,000.

“Since 2017, three trash skimmers in Newport and one in Portsmouth have collected 27,000 pounds of trash. Cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, and foam debris are the most common items collected. The skimmers are emptied daily throughout most of the year by interns and student groups. Each contains between 20 and 200 pounds of daily trash. The skimmers have collected unusual items such as floating plastic disks from a wastewater treatment plant in East Providence.

“The project is run by Clean Ocean Access, the Middletown-based pollution advocacy group directed by David McLaughlin.

“ ‘The skimmer is the last line of defense for our oceans, and each installation allows for open, positive, and forward-thinking conversation of how to solve the local and global problem of litter and marine debris,’ McLaughlin said. …

“Plastic bags are one of the top items collected in the trash skimmers. So far, 10 Rhode Island municipalities — Barrington, Bristol, Jamestown, Middletown, New Shoreham, Newport, North Kingstown, Portsmouth, South Kingstown, and Warren — have enacted bans on plastic retail bags. East Providence, Providence, and Westerly are poised to pass bans. …

“The trash skimmer project is funded by 11th Hour Racing, a Newport-based funder of ocean stewardship initiatives. … Two skimmers are operating in Newport Harbor and a third is in the water off Fort Adams. Another is at New England Boat Works in Portsmouth. A trash skimmer is operating in Gloucester, Mass., and a new trash skimmer is scheduled to be unveiled in New Bedford Harbor during the week of Earth Day. Other skimmers are planned for Stamford, Conn., and possibly Fall River, Mass.”

More here.

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
The Providence trash skimmer, which helps to clear plastic waste from Rhode Island waters, is fixed to a floating dock below the riverfront deck at the Hot Club
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Photo: Ocean Sole
Says Ocean Sole: “We turn flip-flops into art and functional products and in turn raise visual awareness of the problem. … We are not only creating employment for a country that has 40% unemployment, but also sending a message about how we can help our planet.”

Around the world, flip flops have provided cheap footware for billions of people. Everyone loves them. Unfortunately, they’re part of the planet’s growing plastics and synthetics problem, a tsunami of trash that damages the environment and threatens marine life.

Some years ago, the company Ocean Sole was created to do something about that and at the same time provide employment in a high-unemployment region of Africa.

As Olivia Yasukawa and Thomas Page reported at CNN in 2017, “The shores of Watamu on the Kenyan coast should be pristine. They’re not. Downstream from an ecological disaster brewing a continent away, these placid waters are bearing the brunt of a foot-born problem: your flip flops. …

” ‘Over three billion people can only afford that type of shoe,’ says Erin Smith of Ocean Sole, a conservation group and recycling collective. ‘They hang on to them, they fix them, they duct tape them, mend them and then usually discard them.’ The average lifespan of a flip flop is two years, she adds.

“They’re ubiquitous, and the modern day synthetic rubber flip flop is not going away. In fact, tons of them are washing up on the East African coast. Reports suggest that at least eight million tons of plastic enters our oceans every year.

By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the seas by weight. …

” ‘We are actually receivers of pretty much the rest of the emerging world’s marine pollution,’ [Smith] argues. And a significant quantity of the pollution which appears on East Africa’s beaches come from discarded flip flops — approximately 90 tons a year. … They’re not only an eyesore, but a direct health hazard, and with no hope of biodegrading.

” ‘Our founder Julie Church back in the 90s discovered an entire beach … was just covered in flip flops,’ Smith says. ‘What she saw were not just dead fish that had been trying to eat in their natural habitat, but turtles unable to come up on to land and actually hatch. [The pollution] started to kill the plant life, it started to kill the crabs on the sand … we have deserted beaches that used to have communities there, that used to be able to fish, and the whole ecosystem has been ruined by this massive increase in marine pollution.’

“Matilda Mathias, a debris collector from the ‘Blue Team’ in Watamu, cites the benefits to the tourist industry when the beaches are clean, and says ‘we also benefit from the money.’

“Most of the detritus is recycled, some is reused, but in the case of flip flops, they’re upcycled. Ocean Sole has trained a team of 40-or-so artisans in a workshop in Nairobi to craft sculptures from these pre-owned, unloved objects into a source of income. Importing flip flops from recycling crews along the East Coast and from as far away as Zanzibar, Smith estimates the Ocean Sole team can repurpose approximately 800,000 flip flops a year. …

“There’s little chance artisans will run out of raw material any time soon as long as our flip flop habit remains.

” ‘I think it’s time for us to start looking for an alternative shoe, or an alternative material, to fit that kind of fashion need,’ argues Smith.”

More at Ocean Sole, here, and at CNN, here.

Warthog made of recycled flip flops by Ocean Sole. Many zoo gift shops carry these products.

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Photo: Evening Standard
According to a UK newspaper, environmentally aware millennials are driving increased demand for milk in glass bottles. Plastic bottles are out.

I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful about cutting down on household items that aren’t good for the environment. But sometimes I’m a little clueless, carrying the recycling to the street on a regular basis and not noticing that all our milk comes in plastic bottles.

The last couple weeks, though, I’ve been buying cardboard bottles of milk. Unfortunately, they are not for sale everywhere and they cost more. That’s why the following story about the new popularity of glass bottles caught my attention. There is no milk delivery where I live, but it’s definitely available where Suzanne lives.

In England, Ella Wills reports at the Evening Standard, “milkmen and milkwomen are making a comeback in London as millennials have started using glass milk bottles in a bid to cut down plastic waste.

“Dairies in the capital told of a ‘phenomenal’ upsurge in interest from younger customers at the start of the year amid growing public upset over plastic waste.

“Both UK-wide company milk&more and east London dairy Parker Dairies have seen increased demand for glass bottles in 2018, citing David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II as the ‘catalyst’ for the new uptake. The firms said younger consumers and families seem willing to pay more for the service in a bid to help the environment. …

“The industry body [Dairy UK] said figures showed doorstep deliveries make up 3 per cent of milk sales in the UK — around 1 million pints per day — and glass milk bottles make up 3 per cent of all milk sales. But depot manager of Parker Dairies Paul Lough said interest of late in glass bottles has been ‘absolutely phenomenal.’

“He said the dairy, which has a fleet of 25 electric milk floats covering all of east London, the city and the West End, has gained 382 new customers since the beginning of the year. Of these new calls, 95 per cent are having milk delivered in glass bottles. …

“And the dairy has attracted a younger clientele, Mr Lough said, meaning the firm has expanded its product line to cater to the new demographic.

“ ‘Without a doubt [they are younger],’ he said. ‘That is why we are trying to change our product list. We do sourdough and honeys. … We sell 250 loaves a week to new customers.’

“Meanwhile, UK company milk&more said it has gained more than 2,500 new customers in [February] — the equivalent of five new milk rounds. And some 90 per cent of these customers across the country are ordering in the iconic glass bottles. …

“Milkman Ian Beardwell has been doing the same round in Wimbledon for Hanworth Dairy for 27 years. He said: ‘Since Blue Planet that has been the catalyst of the revival in glass. I used to do 550 calls before and in four weeks I’ve gained another 35 to 40 calls — 90 per cent glass.’ …

“Patrick Müller, managing director of milk&more, [added that] new customers were aged around 35 years old, coming from young families with a double income. … ‘Customers [said] they enjoy the experience of the glass bottle — the childhood memories — and they want to reduce their plastic wastage.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Teenage sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen of Bali have received many honors for their efforts to ban plastic bags. Here they’re seen accepting the 2017 “Award for Our Earth” from Germany’s Bambi Awards.

An impressive phenomenon that’s emerging as climate change threatens communities and plastic waste clogs waterways is the emergence of children and teens as leaders — in particular, young people from developing nations.

Consider this story from National Public Radio [NPR].

“Five years ago, two young women decided they were going to do something about the plastic problem on their island of Bali. And Bye Bye Plastic Bags was born.

“How young?” asks NPR reporter Michael Sullivan. “So young one of them couldn’t make it to our midweek interview. ‘She’s at school,’ explained 18-year-old Melati Wijsen, talking about her 16-year-old sister Isabel. ‘She’s just halfway through grade 11 and she’s putting her focus more into graduating high school.’

“Bali is part of the island nation of Indonesia, which is the world’s second biggest polluter when it comes to marine plastic, trailing only China. And when ocean currents carry that plastic to the tourist island of Bali, it’s a public relations nightmare. This video taken by British diver Rich Horner last year pretty much sums up the scale of the problem as he tries to navigate through a sea of plastic just below the water’s surface.

“The two sisters got the idea for Bye Bye Plastic Bags in 2013 after a lesson at school about influential world leaders — change-makers — including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

” ‘My sister and I went home that day thinking, “Well, what can we do as kids living on the island of Bali?” ‘ Melati Wijsen says. … The answer was right in front of them. Literally. On the beach in front of their home. …

” ‘It got to the point where on weekends when we would go to our childhood beach, if we went swimming there, a plastic bag would wrap around your arm,’ Wijsen says. …

“They went online and discovered that over 40 countries had already banned or taxed plastic bags.

” ‘We thought, “Well, if they can do it, c’mon, Bali! C’mon, Indonesia! We can do it, too!” ‘ Wijsen says. …

“They got some friends together, went online to start a petition and got 6,000 signatures in less than a day, Wijsen says. They spread awareness through school and community workshops. They organized massive beach cleanup campaigns, all the while drawing international attention and that of local politicians too. Especially when they decided to up the ante optics-wise.

” ‘I think one of the biggest tools that pushed us forward was our decision to go on a food strike,’ Wijsen says, inspired, she says, by one of the tools used by Gandhi. ‘He also had peaceful ways of reaching his goals, of getting attention, So that was a huge inspiration for us.’

“[The governor did] what any savvy politician would do when faced with two teenage girls threatening a hunger strike. He invited them to come see him. ‘Within 24 hours, we had a phone call and then the next day we were picked up from school and escorted to the office of the governor,’ Wijsen says.

“[Governor] Pastika signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the sisters to work toward eliminating plastic on the island. … Melati Wijsen says she learned a lot about dealing with politicians. …

” ‘Being 14 and skipping school on a Tuesday because I had to learn about draft regulations and suggestions really was an interesting learning curve for me,’ she says. Dancing with politicians, she says, is like three steps forward, two steps back and again, and again. ‘It’s almost like the cha-cha.’ …

“Just last month, the new governor of Bali announced a law banning single-use plastic in 2019, thanks in part to the sisters’ efforts and those of like-minded NGOs. …

” ‘We literally prove that kids can do things, and Bye Bye Plastic Bags has become this platform where kids can feel like their voices are being heard. … This is my No. 1 focus right now,’ she says. ‘It consumes almost every thought in my body. I mean, it’s like a full-time job.’

“Is she obsessed or just focused? ‘A healthy chunk of both,’ she says, laughing, adding that her mother helps keep her balanced. ‘Some days, she’ll just be like, “Melati, take a day off, like go to the beach with your friends and just don’t pick up the plastic, just sit there.” ‘ ” More at NPR, here.

I have to give a shout-out to teachers like the ones who motivated these teens. Can anyone doubt that teachers are important?

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Photo: Margarita Talep/Dezeen.com
Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae. Natural vegetable dyes such as cabbage, beetroot, and carrot produce different shades.

As scary as the photos of plastic-filled oceans, rivers — and whales — may be, I remind myself that many people are working to cut out plastic in their lives and others are inventing biodegradable plastic substitutes.

Consider this story by Natashah Hitti at Dezeen.com, “Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae.

“Disappointed by the abundance of non-recyclable materials currently used to contain food products, Talep decided to develop her own eco-friendly packaging that would stand in for plastic. …

“According to the designer, the material only includes natural matter, including the dyes used to colour it, which are extracted from the skins of fruits and vegetable such as blueberries, purple cabbage, beetroot and carrot.

“The basic mixture is made up of a polymer, a plasticiser and an additive, with the amounts of each ingredient varying depending on the desired consistency of the final product. …

“To make a material that bears a close resemblance to thin plastic, Talep boils the agar mixture to around 80 degrees celsius, before transferring the molten liquid onto a mould.

“When the liquid drops to a temperature below 20 degrees celsius, it takes on a gel-like consistency. This is then left to dry in a well-ventilated environment with a constant temperature, until it becomes similar to paper or thin plastic.

“The bioplastic packaging is especially suited to containing dry food products. It is best sealed with heat rather than glue in a bid make the end result as natural as possible. …

“The material takes around two months to decompose in summer temperatures, depending on the thickness, and about three to four months to decompose completely in winter.

” ‘I believe that bio-fabrication will be an important part of future industries,’ said Talep. ‘As long as all the processes of extracting these raw materials and their manufacture are done with environmental awareness. But it is not enough just to create new materials. These different solutions to the huge environmental problem must work in parallel with other action.

” ‘Different nations should implement action plans for reducing the amount of plastic waste produced by introducing more circular economy projects, keeping plastic in a cyclical system to prevent it from ending up at landfill or in the sea,’ Talep suggests.”

Read more at Dezeen.com, here. The zine has lots of other great ideas for making a more sustainable world.

Also, to read about young people who are taking action, check out Kids Against Plastic, here.

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Photo: Kalume Kazungu / Nation Media Group
The Flipflopi dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic being prepared on January 24, 2019, to start its inaugural journey from Lamu to Zanzibar.

I like listening to Public Radio International’s The World because it gives me a window on what’s going on in other countries. People living elsewhere on Plant Earth often know what’s going on in the US, but here most of us have blinders on. It’s as if nothing happens anywhere else unless it affects us directly and immediately.

But all people are concerned about the things that concern us, and many are taking action unheralded in America. Some of the most energetic environmentalists are the residents of poor countries who’ve been most hurt by climate change (see Mary Robinson’s eye-opening book Climate Justice) or who have the most plastic clogging their waterways and beaches.

Consider this story about Kenyans trying to raise the consciousness of their own countrymen and others in Africa.

Kalume Kazungu and Eunince Murathe reported in January at Kenya’s Daily Nation, “The dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic, the world’s first, has set sail from Lamu Old Town and is headed to Stone Town, Zanzibar. … Aboard 16 crew members, all who were involved in the invention of the vessel, will sail south along the coast of Kenya. …

“The Flipflopi’s maiden journey is meant to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution. … It is sailing for approximately 50 to 80 kilometres a day whilst simultaneously broadcasting the #Plasticrevolution message to a global audience. …

“The Flipflopi team will make several stops where they will be visiting schools, communities and government officials as they discuss solutions and changing mind-sets concerning plastic wastes and the importance of maintaining a clean environment free of plastics.

“[Dhow builder Ali] Skanda said he is confident that the Flipflopi will assist in raising awareness on the danger of using plastics and dumping them anyhow along the beaches.

” ‘We are set for our journey to Zanzibar. We will be passing through various towns along the Coast where we will be making some stops to educate the dwellers on how they can maintain clean beaches as well as avoiding plastic disposal on our ocean beaches.

“ ‘Through the Flipflopi invention, we hope people around the world are inspired to find their own ways to repurpose already used plastic so as to maintain clean beaches which are free of plastic wastes,’ said Mr Skanda.

“Mr Shafi Shetai, a Flipflopi crew member, said he believes the dhow will serve to reinforce the need for continued adherence to the already existing plastic ban since it demonstrates how the increasing amounts of plastic garbage can affect not only marine life but also the lives of residents and the economy.

“Mr Shetai said apart from the existing ban on plastic bags, the government should also ban other plastic materials used daily including straws since they are also posing a challenge to the environment. …

“The venture is aptly named the Flipflopi Project as the boat was built by traditional dhow makers led by Mr Skanda using thousands of repurposed flip-flops and ocean plastic collected on beach clean-ups along the Kenyan Coast. Limiting themselves to locally available technology and materials, the builders collected discarded plastics, shredded them into small pieces, then heated them and remolded them. They then carved the plastic parts exactly the same way they would do to wood.”

Read more at the Daily Nation, here. And for additional details, check out the UN Environment press release on the topic, here.

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Photo: ABC Rural/ Jess Davis
To avoid using plastic, Allen Short has made more than 3,000 small berry baskets from recycled timber donated by makers of wood veneer.

Many of us have been trying to phase out our use of plastic, starting with single-use plastic, and smart companies are focused on meeting the demand.

Biofase in Mexico, for example, takes unwanted avocado pits and makes things like picnic cutlery and straws that biodegrade sustainably. I was especially glad to hear about Biofase after people complained they hated the paper straws our eco-conscious ice cream place started using — and caused the ice cream parlor to switch back to plastic. As visions of plastic-straw-choked sea turtles danced in my head, I thought I’d better let that shop know there was a better alternative than paper for getting rid of plastic straws.

Farmers, too, are working on ways to reduce their plastic footprint — and save money.

As Jess Davis reported at ABC Rural in Australia last summer, “Gippsland beef producer Paul Crock believes he can go plastic-free, despite being in an industry reliant on single-use plastics.

” ‘Without putting too fine a point on it, meat uses a lot of plastic,’ he said. … Mr Crock said it was needed for health and hygiene. Plus, vacuum packing increases shelf life by up to eight weeks.

“Mr Crock is in discussions with European companies that are looking at plastic alternatives, and he has even floated the idea of casings for meat, similar to what you would find on the outside of a sausage. …

” ‘We want to be remaining ahead of the curve and looking at ways we can minimise plastic.’

“But Melbourne butcher Tony Montesano said there was no easy solution.

” ‘Unfortunately you’ve got to use some [plastic]. You can’t exactly have just a flesh of meat. Where do you put it? You can’t exactly put it in your pockets.’

“Mr Montesano allows his customers to bring their own containers to the deli, but that is not something the two major supermarkets allow. …

“Fruit and vegetables also rely heavily on plastic packaging. Allen Short is doing his part to reduce plastic in the berry industry by making punnets [small berry baskets] out of offcuts from the timber industry.

“He started making the punnets for his neighbour, who grows strawberries near Daylesford in central Victoria, and had so far made more than 3,000. …

“Mr Short approached the Timber Veneer Association, which helped him out with scraps. Now, it deliberately sets aside the offcuts at no cost.

 ‘All these [veneer pieces] were just going into landfill, so now they’re being stacked up and given to us and we’re making full use of them,’ he said. …

“While he hoped more people would get on board with sustainable packaging, scaling up an operation like his for the industry at large would be more difficult.

” ‘We’re not going to change the industry but we’re going to do our little bit. And I can’t help but think that taking someone else’s waste product and turning it into a useful thing is a good thing.’ ” I will add that everyone doing their bit is also a good thing.

Read more at ABC, here.

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