• This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
home_icon-01_outline
star
  • Earth.Org Newsletters

    Get focused newsletters especially designed to be concise and easy to digest

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Earth.Org PAST · PRESENT · FUTURE
SHOP Support

The scientists who re-engineered PETase, an enzyme which has evolved to break down plastic, have now created an enzyme ‘cocktail’ which can digest plastic up to six times faster than previously possible. By combining PETase with a second enzyme called MHETase, they were able to break down PET, a common thermoplastic which takes centuries to biodegrade, in just days.

Since it was first patented in the 1940s, PET (polyethylene terephthalate) has been used in the production of billions of plastic bottles and synthetic fabrics across the globe. Many of these products, once discarded, have ended up in the Earth’s ecosystems, polluting landscapes and waterways and threatening wildlife.

The global appetite for plastic is only increasing. At present, over 300 million tonnes are manufactured each year, 50% of which are single-use. And, as about 90% of this is not recycled, the need to transform the way it is produced and to protect the living world is becoming ever-more urgent.

PET bottles – among the most archetypal forms of plastic waste – are usually not fully recycled, but rather melted and remoulded into harder plastics. But the recently-created two-enzyme ‘cocktail’, which strips PET plastics down to their original structure, could enable them to be recycled infinitely. This has the potential to limit the amount of plastic that is manufactured and discarded, while also reducing our reliance on the fossil fuels used in its production.

Enzymes are produced by all living things to catalyse and regulate chemical reactions, such as digestion. Those with the ability to digest plastic were first discovered in 2016, when scientists from the University of Kyoto identified a microbe at a bottle-recycling facility which secreted two enzymes (PETase and MHETase) in order to break down plastic and use it as a primary source of energy and carbon. The microbe, named Ideonella sakaiensis, has evolved this behaviour in response to an environment rich in PET. Thus, it seems that, over the last few decades, nature has been developing a strategy for dealing with our increasingly prevalent plastic litter. 

You might also like: Watch: Earth.Org Speaks at ReThink 2020

This discovery provided the basis for a second study in 2018, when Professor John McGeehan, Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth, and Dr Gregg Beckham, Senior Research Fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US, re-engineered the enzyme PETase and found that its activity could be accelerated by 20%. This was the first intimation that the global plastic problem could be solved by the industrial application of specialised enzymes. Then, earlier this year, the same scientists observed that mixing PETase with MHETase doubled the rate of PET disintegration, while physically connecting them further tripled this rate.

Professor McGeehan said: “Gregg and I were chatting about how PETase attacks the surface of the plastics and MHETase chops things up further, so it seemed natural to see if we could use them together, mimicking what happens in nature.

“Our first experiments showed that they did indeed work better together, so we decided to try to physically link them, like two Pac-men joined by a piece of string.

“It took a great deal of work on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was worth the effort – we were delighted to see that our new chimeric enzyme is up to three times faster than the naturally evolved separate enzymes, opening new avenues for further improvements.”

Indeed, while the speed at which the re-engineered PETase acts alone is not fast enough to make it a commercially viable solution, it seems that the PETase-MHETase ‘super- enzyme’ could hold the key to solving the problem of plastic pollution by being able to break it down quicker. The question is: how soon can it be harnessed on a large scale and applied to the ubiquitous piles of plastic that plague the planet?

Featured image by: Flickr 

Plastics have become universal, being used for food containers, bottles, bags etc. Over 18 trillion pounds of plastic have been produced to date, and 18 billion pounds of it flows into the ocean annually, making it one of the most pressing environmental issues in the world. Solutions have been introduced such as recycling, decreasing personal use of single-use plastic and, more recently, bioplastics, plastics made up of plants or other biological substances.

What are Bioplastics?

Bioplastics are plastics made up of plants or other biological substances rather than traditional plastic’s oil and other natural materials. Bioplastics can be manufactured in two ways; first, they can be produced by removing sugar from corn and sugarcane to eventually be turned into polylactic acids (PLAs); secondly, they can be produced from polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) made from microorganisms. 

The use of PHAs has grown exponentially, being used for food products (disposable containers), medical tools such as prostheses and sutures, toys and fashion. With this rise in use of bioplastics, its global market share is $9 billion, but the conventional plastic market share eclipses this at $1.2 trillion.  

Large, global companies have started to incorporate bioplastic into their manufacturing. Coca-Cola has introduced their ‘PlantBottle’, made from sugarcane originating from Brazil. These PlantBottles are up to 30% plant-based and the company is aspiring to manufacture packaging that consists of 50% recycled material by 2030. It also aims to continue with its goal of producing bottles that are 100% able to be recycled by 2025. Since 2009 when Coca Cola first inaugurated PlantBottles, its carbon emissions have reduced by more than 315 000 metric tons. 

Lavazza is another company who has altered its packaging- its coffee capsules are made from bioplastic. These capsules are compostable and biodegradable.

The environmental benefits of bioplastics include a reduction in fossil fuels as they do not require oil and crude oil to be produced; 8% of the world’s oil is used to make plastic. Moreover, bio-based plastics are seen to decrease greenhouse gas emissions  as plants take in carbon dioxide when they grow. 

Additionally, certain bioplastic products can be recycled like traditional petroleum-based plastics. Bioplastics are also 100% biodegradable and are just as resilient and flexible as traditional plastics. In terms of economic benefits, bioplastics have been deemed to be more marketable because advertising a product in line with green goals adds value to it, thereby showing that green products are more marketable. 

You might also like: How Well Does Asia Recycle?

Furthermore, according to a survey conducted in 2013 by the European Commission, 80% of Europeans would rather buy products with limited negative implications for the environment. Additionally, in London, 33% of consumers are purchasing products from brands they believe are not harming the environment.  PHAs are estimated to offset 10% of Europe’s plastic demands in 10 years. 

However, bioplastics is not the be-all, end-all solution to the pollution crisis. Experts argue that the solution is not spending time in producing more effective bioplastics, but rather increasing the amount of plastic that is recycled in the world. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ claims that if governments fail to take effective action to reduce the use of single and non-recyclable plastic, yearly movement of plastic into the ocean will triple by 2040. 

Additionally, bioplastics do not decompose in water, floating like traditional plastic which poses as much harm to marine life as traditional plastics. Further, due to varying levels of degradability in different types in bottles, bioplastics may take years to decompose if they ever find its way into the environment despite its exposure to oxygen and ultraviolet radiation which would normally biodegrade certain bioplastics. If bioplastics are thrown in landfills and do not receive enough oxygen, they can stay there for up to 100 years before they eventually decompose and release methane. Traditional plastics can take up to 1000 years to decompose

Further, bioplastics and traditional plastics are difficult to distinguish; if PLAs are mixed with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics during recycling, it will reduce the quality and value of the recycled end product. Though PLAs are compostable, they are fundamentally an acid and will increase the level of acidity in the environment in which it decomposes, altering the pH value of surrounding soil and water. 

Moving away from environmental implications, bioplastics are more expensive than traditional plastics. The manufacturing of bioplastics costs 50% more in comparison to the production of conventional PET plastics. 

Ultimately, the most effective solution to the plastic pollution crisis lies not only within the increase of bioplastic products, but with the reduction of plastic consumption and the increase of recycling plastic. Simple, everyday ways to decrease plastic consumption include using a reusable shopping bag, limiting the amount of single-use plastic food products you buy, carrying a reusable water bottle and not using plastic straws and cutlery. Additionally, ways to increase the recycling of plastic is to be aware of the products you can or cannot recycle and explicitly search and purchase items with packaging made from already recycled materials. 

Featured image by: Flickr 

According to officials, Sri Lanka has started shipping 242 containers of hazardous waste, including body parts from mortuaries, back to the UK after a two-year court battle by an environmental watchdog.

The first 20 containers of medical waste, including body parts, were loaded last week and another 65 will be sent this week, according to Sri Lankan customs. A week prior, Sri Lanka’s court of appeals ordered the repatriation of the bio-waste and plastic waste imported in violation of local and international shipping regulations, as well as the BASEL Convention. The imports arrived between September 2017 and January 2018 and the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) had petitioned courts to get it rejected. 

The petition included such issues as severe damage to the environment and biodiversity and threats to the health of the general public. The application also said that the waste was imported without adhering to the terms of the BASEL Convention, according to which Sri Lanka has restricted the import of hazardous waste. 

What’s Happening Now?

The Basel Convention is an international treaty, signed in 1989, designed to prevent the movement of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries.

In September, more than 280 tons of waste in another 21 countries were sent back after the UK agreed to take it back. 

Besides Sri Lanka, several other Asian countries have in recent years started pushing back against a tide of waste coming from wealthier countries and have started turning away shipments of garbage. The region, including Sri Lanka, has been flooded with plastic waste from more developed economies such as the US and UK since 2018, after China ordered a halt to most imports.

You might also like: How The Basel Convention has Harmed Developing Countries

In January, Malaysia sent back 150 shipping containers of plastic waste to mostly wealthier nations saying that it would not be the world’s “garbage dump.” In May 2019, the Philippines shipped 69 containers back to Canada following a long-running dispute. 

America generates more plastic waste than any other country in the world and is the third-largest contributor of plastic pollution in coastal environments, according to a new study. The country produced 42 million metric tons, or 130 kg per person, in 2016. 

The study, using World Bank data on waste generation in 217 countries, shines a light on the global waste export system, showing that wealthier countries often ship their waste to less developed countries with inadequate recycling methods. A 2019 investigation found that US plastic was being sent to some of the world’s poorest countries, including Bangladesh, Laos, Ethiopia and Senegal. 

Previous work had suggested that Asian countries contributed the most to marine plastic pollution and placed the US in 20th place, however this research neglected US waste exports or illegal dumping in the country. 

Nick Mallos, senior director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas programme and co-author of the study, says, “The United States generates the most plastic waste of any other country in the world, but rather than looking the problem in the eye, we have outsourced it to developing countries and become a top contributor to the ocean plastic crisis.”

Why Does This Matter?

Less than 10% of plastic waste in the US was collected for recycling in 2016, according to the study. Half of this was exported, 88% of which went to countries with ineffective waste management systems. The report says that “up to 1 million metric tons of US-generated plastic waste ended up polluting the environment beyond its own borders.”

The study also found that between 2-3% of plastic waste generated in the US in 2016 was either discarded as litter or illegally dumped. 

You might also like: How China Could Become Carbon Neutral by 2060

Combined with waste exports, America contributed 2.25 million metric tons of plastic waste to global pollution levels. 1.5 million of this ended up in coastal environments, five times more than in 2010. 

After the US, India and China produced the second- and third- most plastic waste, but their large populations meant that their figures for per capita plastic waste was less than 20% of that of US consumers. In terms of plastic waste ending up in the ocean, Indonesia and India ranked highest, followed by the US. 

Mallos says, “America is 4% of the world’s population, yet it produces 17% of its plastic waste. The US needs to play a much bigger role in addressing the global plastic pollution crisis.” 

In 2018, China banned the import of plastic waste, and Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, India and Indonesia have followed with their own restrictions. 

Canada will ban single-use plastics, including checkout bags, straws and cutlery, nationwide by the end of 2021, as part of larger plans to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030.

In a news conference, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, says, “Plastic pollution threatens our natural environment. It fills our rivers or lakes, and most particularly our oceans, choking the wildlife that live there. Canadians see the impact that pollution has from coast to coast to coast.”

The government set three criteria for products to fall under the ban- there is evidence that they are harmful to the environment, they are difficult or costly to recycle and there are ready available alternatives. The six items that the government plans to ban are plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and food ware made from plastics that are difficult to recycle.

Wilkinson clarified that the single-use plastic ban “would not affect access to PPE or any other plastics used in the medical environment” in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he added that the government is looking at ways to properly dispose of PPE “so that it does not end up in our natural environment,” as well as investigating solutions to recycle PPE wherever possible and add options to make some of the PPE biodegradable. 

You might also like: The UK is Sending 1.6Bn Surgical Masks to Landfill Every Month- Report

This is certainly a welcome move as Canada produces an estimated 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste per year and the government says that only 9% of this is recycled. Additionally, the country uses almost 15 billion plastic bags every year and close to 57 millions straws each day. More than a third of the plastics in Canada are created for single-use products or packaging. The plan was first announced last year, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describing it as a “problem we simply can’t afford to ignore.”

The government is releasing a discussion paper outlining the proposed plastics ban and soliciting public feedback, which will be available until December 9. 

Featured image by: Flickr

If you are drinking coffee while reading this story, you’re likely ingesting a few micrograms of plastic. The same is true if you’re drinking tea. Or if you’re eating cereal, chicken soup, or anything made with water. Regardless where that water came from, chances are it brought some microscopic plastic particles with it that you are now eating. You may not see them floating around your coffee cup, but when these microscopic particles are heaped up, the piles look shockingly plentiful.

A recent Reuters infographic titled “A plateful of plastic” serves as a stark reminder of how much plastic we are actually eating. According to that story, we ingest about five grams of plastic every week—a spoonful that weighs about as much as a bottle cap. Every month we swallow an equivalent of five casino dice—or about half a rice bowl. At the end of the year it totals half a pound—or a heaping dinner plate. And after 10 years, we each consume over five pounds of plastic—the equivalent of a standard life buoy. How much over the course of our lifetime? About 44 pounds total.

You might also like: Sharp Rise in Plastic Waste Crime- INTERPOL

To date, humans have produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic—or 25,000 times the weight of the Empire State Building. About 8 million tons of it washes into the oceans every year, where it doesn’t biodegrade—because its large polymer molecules were designed to last forever, and they do. Instead, bigger plastic objects break down into smaller, microscopic fragments, littering marine ecosystems from deep ocean sediments to polar icecaps. And as they float down the rivers and into the ocean these miniature fragments come back to us with the water we consume.

Although this plastic isn’t immediately poisonous, it has been shown to have detrimental affects on living organisms. Plastic molecules are endocrine disruptors—they mimic certain hormones present in humans and animals, interfering with reproductive systems. One study showed that when marine oysters lived in waters polluted with microscopic plastic for two months during their critical reproductive cycle, they produced fewer eggs and had slow swimming sperm. The larvae of these plastic-affected oysters also grew slower than normal. When exposed to environmentally relevant levels of plastic in its food, fish named Japanese medaka experienced liver stress and signs of endocrine disruption. Even for smaller marine organisms, reduced reproductive or growing success is a recurring theme after chronic exposure to microplastics. Planktonic copepods exposed to plastic-laden water, wold be eating less—and reproducing less. Lugworms raised in plastic-containing sediment, ate less and had only half of the normal energy reserves stored in their bodies. Even microbes aren’t spared. Marine bacteria Prochlorococcus, which produces ten percent of the oxygen we breathe, grows slower than normal because plastic pollution changes its gene expression. Humans also experience the deleterious effects of microplastics—numerous studies have linked bisphenol A (BPA)-containing plastic to health issues. But even BPA-free plastics can mimic human hormones, and may be just as harmful.

With tons of plastic debris floating in the ocean, our water supply is already tainted. Is there anything we can do to clean up our tap water? Several companies claim that their tested filter technologies can sieve out microplastic from the water we drink. For example, LifeStraw filter comes in a variety of forms, including a pitcher and TAPP attaches to water faucets. Ironically, both systems use at least some plastic components—it seems unavoidable.

In the short-term such filters can diminish the amount of plastic in our diets. But the only way to truly reduce plastic pollution worldwide is to eliminate single-use plastic, develop better recycling solutions, and make biodegradable alternatives.

This article was originally published on JSTOR Daily, written by Lina Zeldovich, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

As states begin to reopen and people start to venture outdoors, they may notice new, previously unseen forms of pollution- face masks and gloves. The world has been on lockdown for about three months, and masks and gloves are now littering the streets. Moreover, they are already starting to wash up on beaches around the world. Deutsche Welle, Germany’s broadcaster reported that conservation group OceansAsia found about 100 discarded masks on an uninhabited island a few nautical miles from Hong Kong. These items have never been spotted in that remote location before.

Gloves, masks, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are key to keeping us safe, especially as we began to ease the lockdown rules. Yet, the environmental watchdogs worry that all that PPE will flow into the ocean. ” If they’re thrown on the streets, when it rains the gloves and masks will eventually end up in the sea,” biologist Anastasia Miliou at the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation in Greece told Deutsche Welle.

To make things worse, the discarded PPE presents a particularly nasty problem for marine life—because of how it’s made, according to John Hocevar, oceans campaign director at Greenpeace. “Gloves, like plastic bags, can appear to be jellyfish or other types of foods for sea turtles, for example,” Hocevar told CNN. “The straps on masks can present entangling hazards.”

The environmentalists have reasons to worry. The world’s oceans are already drowning in plastic pollution. Every year, about 300 million tons of plastic is produced and 5 to 13 million tons of it washes into the ocean, according to the 2015 figures. The same paper lists that about 269,000 tons of the plastic floats in the ocean currents. As larger plastic debris breaks into smaller pieces, birds, turtles, and fish mistake it for food and gobble it up, which can perforate their stomachs, damage their intestines, or deprive them of nourishment, leading to starvation. Marine mammals and turtles commonly get caught into the discarded fishing gear and other items. And masks and gloves are choking hazards.

You might also like: Trump Administration Finalises Plan for Drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Humans live on land, but they suffer from marine pollution too. As one study notes, Homo sapiens has lived for half a century in a throwaway society, but no “away” exists. The trash we toss away comes back to us, and as the masks example above demonstrates, it only takes a few weeks. Plastic leaches into our drinking water, too—research found that we consume a spoonful of plastic a week. And the microscopic plastic bits dissolved in the ocean water, interfere with the healthy function of Prochlorococcus—the ocean’s invisible forests that produce ten percent of all oxygen we breathe.

Some organizations are finding ways to upcycle plastic ocean-bound waste into usable materials. Fashion company Rothy’s makes bags from the plastic bottles fished out of the sea. Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) just partnered with Rash’R, a company that sells eco-friendly clothes to make masks from the plastic that once polluted the ocean.

That does divert a certain amount of plastic from the ocean currents. But while these masks aren’t single-use, they too may one day end up in the sea, if not recycled properly. Still, many face masks and gloves will remain single-use, exacerbating the pollution problem. The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey prompted a discussion of how to recycle half a million flooded cars. The amount of single-use masks and gloves discarded during the coronavirus pandemic will likely make a research subject soon.

Featured image by: Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published on JSTOR Daily, written by Lina Zeldovich, and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

The annual flow of plastic into the ocean is on a trajectory to triple over the next 20 years, which could add up to 110 pounds of plastic trash for every meter of coastline worldwide, a new report finds.

That path is not inevitable, however. The volume could be cut by 80%, the analysis found, by taking actions to reduce the growth of virgin plastic production, improve waste collection systems across the globe, and invest in the creation of plastic materials that are easier to recycle.

“There is a path where we can have substantial reduction,” said Dr. Winnie Lau, a co-author of the report and a senior manager with the preventing ocean plastics program at Pew Charitable Trusts. “We picked numbers that were realistic to achieve but not easy.”

The technical underpinnings of the report were published Wednesday in the journal Science. Its projections are based on an economic model that quantifies the flow and amount of plastic in the global system developed by Pew, a non-profit, and SystemIQ, a commercial company founded to develop models and markets to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

You might also like: New Research Finds That Microplastic is Now Discoverable in Human Organs

The model estimates the quantity of plastic pollution that will make it to the oceans by 2040 under six scenarios ranging from “business as usual” to a total overhaul of plastic systems from production through collection, consumption, and disposal/recycling. It compares the associated cost, climate, and employment implications of each scenario. 

Currently roughly 11 million metric tons of plastic make their way into the oceans each year, causing incalculable damage to wildlife habitats and harm to humans and animals. The research found that if no action is taken, the amount of plastic litter will grow to 29 million metric tons per year by 2040. Although some hydrocarbon-based plastics break down into tiny particles known as microplastics (which are themselves harmful to humans and animals) they don’t biodegrade, meaning that the cumulative amount of plastic in the ocean could reach 600 million tons in 20 years.

While some governments and industries have made pledges to reduce plastic use, the report’s authors estimate that even if these commitments are met, plastic dumping would fall by just 7%. The report also noted that the fight against Covid-19 might make the challenge even harder since the pandemic has increased single-use plastic consumption.

Martin Stuchtey, co-founder of SystemIQ, said plastic systems are deeply intertwined, and that making improvements in one necessarily involves improving all the others. Still, he adds, a few basic systems are core to making a difference. For example, the report’s authors determined that about 4 billion people worldwide won’t be served by organized waste collection in 2040. Better waste processing on its own isn’t enough to address the whole ocean plastic problem, but it is a necessary first step so that waste can be sorted and either recycled or safely diverted.

The report calls for connecting an average of 500,000 people to waste collection networks each day through 2040, at a total government cost of $600 billion. But Stuchtey added that the rosiest projections they developed would be impossible unless virgin plastic production were also held essentially flat.

“Even if we allow for ambitious increases in recycling and collection and substitution of materials, we still cannot there unless we freeze plastic production at 2020 levels,” he said.  “Either refineries have to change their plans, or we have to acknowledge there is no way to get out of increased ocean pollution.”

This story originally appeared in Bloomberg Green and is republished here as a part of Earth.Org’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

 

A new research technique now allows for microplastic and nanoplastic particles to be discoverable in human organs. This will allow scientists to determine the level of plastic contamination as well as the health impact of these particles on human health, which is currently unknown. 

The researchers expect to find these nano- and microplastic particles in human organs and have already found chemical traces of plastic in human tissue. However, characterising these traces is difficult. To test this new technique, researchers added micro- and nanoplastic particles to 47 samples of lung, liver, spleen and kidney tissue. Microplastics were detected in every sample. These organs were studied as they are the ones most likely to be exposed to microplastic. 

The analytical method allowed the research team to identify dozens  of types of plastic, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used in plastic bottles and the polyethylene used in plastic bags. They also found bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to make plastics, in all 47 samples. BPA is a ‘reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies’, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. 

Varum Kelkar of Arizona State University and part of the research team, says, “We never want to be alarmist, but it is concerning that these non-biodegradable materials that are present everywhere may enter and accumulate in human tissues, and we don’t know the possible health effects. Once we get a better idea of what’s in the tissues, we can conduct epidemiological studies to assess human health outcomes- that way, we can start to understand the potential health risks, if any.”

This new technique developed by the team will be shared online so that other researchers can report their results in a standardised way and allow them to compare exposures in organs and groups of people over time and geographic space.

You might also like: Alarm as Report Finds 75% of Fish in The Nile River Contain Microplastics

Microplastics have been found all over the planet, from Antarctic ice and the food we eat to the deepest parts of the ocean. Previous studies have also shown that people eat and breathe in at least 50 000 particles of microplastic a year. 

Charles Rolsky, another member of the team, says, “In a few short decades, we’ve gone from seeing plastic as a wonderful benefit to considering it a threat.”

Microplastics are those less than 5mm in diameter and nanoplastics have a diameter of less than 0.001mm. Both are formed largely from the abrasion of larger pieces of plastic dumped into the environment. Research in wildlife and lab animals has linked these plastics to infertility, inflammation and cancer. 

Featured image by: Oregon State University

While trail running in 2018, Devana Ng and Flavien Chaussegros were shocked at how much waste they found in the otherwise pristine landscape. While collecting the trash they came across, the husband and wife team started talking about how they could disrupt the packaging industry to reduce our reliance on plastic. Thus, Distinctive Action was born. The Hong Kong-based startup has created a bag that dissolves completely in water and is also biodegradable, non-toxic, compostable and leaves no microplastics. Earth.Org spoke to co-founder Devana Ng to talk about how they hope the #INVISIBLEBAG will change the plastic packaging industry and replace conventional plastics. 

What Inspired You to Start Distinctive Action?

After seeing the amount of trash in Hong Kong, we decided to get to the source of plastic waste. So we started doing research and in 2019, we travelled to different countries to source materials for water soluble plastic packaging. 

We are not anti-plastic and we know that we can’t totally avoid plastic packaging but we can be more aware of our consumption of it. 

We know that we’re not the first company to release eco-friendly bags, but what sets us apart is that our bags are vibrantly branded. We don’t position ourselves as a supplier- we want to make it easily accessible to the general public, which is why we offer our bags in packs of 200. 

What is the #INVISIBLEBAG Made Of, How Easy is it to Source and Can it Be Made Available on a Large Scale?

#INVISIBLEBAG is made of a biodegradable combination of Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA), as well as plant-based starch, glycerin and water. It is completely water-soluble, compostable, non-toxic, marine and wildlife safe, and leaves no microplastics. The bag behaves like conventional plastic but dissolves in water at 70°C and above, If left unintentionally, it will dissolve in cold temperatures but at a slower rate. 

In the marine environment, the #INVISIBLEBAG will degrade up to 75% within 72 days and will fully biodegrade in less than a year. 

PVA was found by two German scientists Hermann and Haehnel in 1924 by hydrolyzing polyvinyl acetate in ethanol with potassium hydroxide. It is a water-soluble synthetic resin that was first industrially produced in Japan and is used as an ingredient in vinylon synthetic fibers. It can be used to coat capsules in medicine, as well as in laundry and detergent packets, and agricultural films. A company in Japan is even using it to create garments with.  

Not many countries can source PVA, and it is mostly Japan and Taiwan, but also the US. However, it can be made available on a mass scale, which makes the possibilities for water soluble packaging endless. We also hope that once the technology becomes more widely available, it will be cheaper to produce, and therefore cheaper for the consumer.

The bag was tested for Estrogen Equivalent (EEQ) by biotech lab testing corporation Vitartgent and is considered to be completely safe for humans and wildlife, both marine and terrestrial.

The #INVISIBLEBAG is also ASTM D6400 and EN13432-certified compostable and the Japan BioPlastics Association has proved that it is biodegradable, which means in the natural environment, the product will be broken down by the action of microorganisms, ultimately becoming carbon dioxide and water.

The carbon content of PVA is about half that of conventional plastic. While the afterlife impact of these conventional plastics will remain for years, #INVISIBLEBAG takes months to return to nature with no harm. 

You might also like: How 3D-Printed Tiles Can Help Restore Hong Kong’s Corals

distinctive action

What Has the Consumer Reaction Been Like?

Consumer awareness about plastic waste is definitely shifting. More brands are incorporating green elements into their models and it’s becoming something that they can’t avoid in any case, because there’s a demand in the market for more sustainable and eco-friendly products. 

What sets Distinctive Action apart from other similar companies is our branding on the bags. It was important to us to do this as we want to make them stand out more and market these products as eco-friendly but with an attitude. We want consumers to engage with the bags and share it on their social media, as they do now, which fosters a collaborative landscape- we hope that we can inspire others to make changes because only together can we change the world. 

How Has Distinctive Action Struggled With the Onset of COVID-19?

It has been difficult to justify the cost of the bags to restaurants during these times. The #INVISIBLEBAG is more expensive than conventional plastics, but we cannot make this comparison, because plastic is so cheap to produce. As more people start using alternative materials like PVA, it will become cheaper to produce. 

We have some restaurant partners: YEARS in Sham Shui Po is using #INVISIBLEBAG and we have an upcoming partnership with La Lune, where customers can get mooncakes in either an #INVISIBLEBAG crossover with La Lune or paper bag.

We are very excited for these upcoming projects. While we want to sell bags and make money, of course, we want to create awareness and influence people to shift their behaviour and become more conscious of their plastic consumption. 

What is Distinctive Action’s Long-Term Vision?

Right now, we are working on research and development to develop new materials that can replace plastic food packaging. We are working with engineers to develop plastic-free materials that can still act as a good barrier against oxygen and bacteria for frozen food and food and beverage containers. This is an ongoing process, and won’t be something that we complete in 6 months. We want to be the leader of alternative packaging solutions, so we need to put a lot of time and effort into it.

Looking outward, we want to work with brands and people that have the same mindset as Distinctive Action or influence them to adopt the same mindset and live more sustainably. Similarly, we want to use our position to help the community we operate in. We’ve donated 200 litres of sanitisers to various charities, including Feeding Hong Kong and Dialogue Experience for the Disabled.

The pandemic has seen more widespread use of single-use items as people have been forced to get takeaway food instead of dining at restaurants. This comes at a time when plastic waste is skyrocketing globally. A study found that even if we reduced our plastic waste by 80%, we will still be faced with 710 million tons of plastic by 2040. 

This dire prediction makes companies working to reduce plastic waste- like Distinctive Action- all the more important. 

Find out more about Distinctive Action and the products they offer at https://www.daction.today/

Subscribe to our newsletter

Hand-picked stories once a fortnight. We promise, no spam!

SUBSCRIBE
Instagram @earthorg Follow Us