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Plastic - a Weapon vs. Coronavirus

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Fri, Mar 20, 2020 @ 06:34 PM

In a crisis, political correctness and platitudes are relegated to abeyance.  Roosevelt and Lincoln both contravened the Constitution.  Only weeks ago plastics was the bane of our existence was plastics.  Now we are getting letters assigning essential status.

In 2008 in the aftermath of hurricanes Rita and Katrina the EPA put the summer regional formulations on hold when unleaded gas hit $ 6 per gallon in Atlanta.  Of course they were reinstated in spring 2009.

The U S government is doing the inverse of overreach in the coronavirus pandemic.  Cumbersome regulations for truckers have been rolled back like Walmart pricing to meet real needs.  The FDA is streamlining the approval process at an unimaginable pace, especially to anyone who has had to shepherd a drug or medical device through their maze ( they are notoriously slow because the bureaucrats have no incentive.  If a drug is a boon, the manufacturer gets the glory; if it has deleterious side effects, they get blamed for letting it get past phase 3 ).  Luciana Boro second guessed the off label use of hydroxychloroquine when patients are at the " hail Mary " juncture.   If she would remain a Luddite if she becomes desperate remains to be seen. 

Texas governor Greg Abbott has waived many trucking regulations

Publix is installing plexiglass barriers.

No real surprize.  Wars accelerate technology. 

plasticbashBashing plastic straw men became one of the favorite targets of virtue signallers in 2019.  

Here we go again.  In the aftermath of hurricane Harvey, plastics came to the rescue.

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, plastic is once again the unsung hero.  You don't see articles
about plastic breaking the transmission chain.  The mention is mostly passing, usually about how long the virus can stay alive on specific surfaces. 

" These plastic bubble helmets are connected to ventilators to help patients breathe."
ABC chief foreign correspondent Maggie Rulli on assignment in Italy March 20,2020

 The Fauci " curve " would be a spike without plastics.

Plastics plays a key role in both mitigation and cure.  If we are on a war footing, plastics is a weapon against the coronavirus.

hazmatdoc

Take a look at these images.  The common thread - plastic is a barrier between the virus and humans.
Did you know ?  Even the nonwoven gowns and N 95 respirators are made from fossil fuel plastic, not organic hemp. 

coronavirusmasks&bottlesbloodbagbloodbag2

n95maskcoronabloodtubecoronamaskcoronafunnelcoronaswab

If the plasma therapy turns out to be viable, would single-use plastic or glass bottles be the preferred choice ?
Israel just flew in 10,000 hydroxychloroquine kits.  Were they packaged in woven burlap or plastic ?

The reason post-op infection rates are low is simple.  The sterile plastic devices are used once and disposed as biohazard in single use plastic bags.  There is no chance for seed populations to infect another patient.  If this mode was not effective, we would still be washing and recycling drapes.  New York Presbyterian has a shortage of masks because they are not taking any chances.  They are going through 40,000 to 70,000 daily compared to their normal usage of about 4,000.  Source: Craig Smith, Chair Department of Surgery / Surgeon in Chief  NYP CUIMC.

(  Let's remember basic econ here - a shortage is defined as an insufficient quantity of a commodity at the prices the market wants to pay.  When demand spikes due to an acute change in consumer behavior, voila !  You got a shortage.  We are seeing firsthand the invisible hand stepping up. )

We make film destined for opthalmic drapes, ostomy bags, under patient capillary blankets and other dermal contact medical devices.  Would you really want to be the patient who gets a hand-me down device ?  There are no poll numbers, but I suspect most of the greens would save themselves, not the planet given a choice.  If the government declares plastics a non-essential industry, recycled devices and bandages will become SOP (standard operating procedure ).

mountsinaigowns

These nurses at Mount Sinai are improvising.  There is a shortage of single use disposable aprons.  The major US manufacturer has put their customers on allocation.  Suddenly, the distributors who had been pushing them to meet the cheap China price want to be their friend. 

Think it couldn't happen here ?

" Doctors are putting masks in ziplock bags so they can be reused for up to a week."
ABC anchor David Muir March 20, 2020.

oldhospital

It's ironic that this is happening just as we are about to launch version 4.0 of a reusable bag.  Suddenly, the data about microbes travelling on reusable bags has become relevant.   A major defense of single use bags has been their cleanliness vis-a-vis reusable bags.  The data on microloads has been out there for years.  This has led to re-thinking bag bans.  

https://wgme.com/news/coronavirus/state-considers-delaying-new-law-banning-plastic-bags-amid-coronavirus-spread

https://www.silive.com/coronavirus/2020/03/plastic-bag-ban-enforcement-delayed-due-to-coronavirus-concerns.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/1433324/coronavirus-is-why-plastic-bag-ban-should-go.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/patrickgleason/2020/03/17/pandemic-prompts-call-to-suspend-or-repeal-bag-bans--taxes/#53cf2f23464d

The virtue signallers have a dilemma.  If they show they care more than everyone else by using single-use plastic bags, they will tacitly endorse the plastic-induatrial complex. 

Once again expediency and survival trumps political correctness. 

charmin

The resin producers claim there is still substantial demand.  In my own direct experience, I have not seen nor heard of eco warriors refusing to buy toilet paper packaged in plastic.  MDPE for soft goods overwrap will be strong in the short term. 

The world will be different in the aftermath of the current unpleasantness.  We will see if plastic reverts to goat or remains a hero. 

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Topics: plastics recycling,, extended producer responsibility, plastics toxic, eco friendly plastic,, virtue signalling, plastic bag bans, coronavirus spread

Designing for Recycling and Sustainability

Posted by Joel Longstreth on Thu, Jan 05, 2017 @ 06:07 PM

Cradle-to-Cradle, Recyclability, Sustainability and reclamation have historically been low priorities in design considerations.  The biggest obstacle to these goals is dissimilar materials in the same product.  Just as form follows function, selection of raw materials teamed up to do a job is determined by the properties raw materials can deliver.

 

Recycle Across America correctly attributes the recycling collapse and crisis to contamination.  

"... the collapse of recycling is primarily due to high contamination levels in the recycling stream.  Contamination cripples the economics of recycling.  The process to remove contamination reduces profitability, driving up the cost of recyclables, thereby preventing many manufacturers from reusing recycled materials. As a result, they continue to deplete finite resources at alarming levels." 

Note how economic sustainability dovetails with environmental sustainability.  The recycling business is tough at best because prices drop when there are more recycled materials are on the market.  There is not enough margin to absorb the additional cost of sorting.

It's not complicated.  The more dissimilar materials are contained in a product, the more difficult it is to
recycle for practical purposes.  If a product contains more than one polymer, it should be labeled a resin identification code ( or RIC for short ) symbol 7.

recycle7.png

Sweden has it down to a fine art.  They claim only 4% of their discards end up in the landfill. 

 

So just make the product out of the same resin.  Simple solution, right ?
Problem: one resin can't deliver all the attributes needed

Often the resolution to a problem is meeting halfway.  This mailing envelope solves the debate over paper or plastic.  Instead of an all polyethylene #4 recyclable envelope, it is made from both polyethylene bubble pack and kraft paper.  

pregis.jpg

Proponents of plastic often ask why cut down a new tree when you can use an old dinosaur ?  The rejoinder is usually "you're still usin' fossil fuels, man".  This brilliant example of an unrecyclable #7 satisfies all demographics.  Proof that it satisfies the demands of the consumer for green products is it's ubiquitous presence in UPS stores.  

A cotidien example of several resins in one product is a soft drink cup with a straw and lid.  It has three different polymers with three different job descriptions:  The stiff and pliable straw is polypropylene, the rigid lid is polystyrene and the paper is coated with low density polyethylene.  One resin is not versatile enough to do all three jobs.

 

 

At Sustpack2016, the common threads of marathon presentations by large companies were source reduction and landfill reduction.  They have all made great initial strides mainly through reduction of corrugated packaging. Just my opinion - it will be more difficult to maintain the same rate of progress after another few years.  Corrugated recycles allright.  It also cuts down trees and uses oodles of fossil fuels.  Chemical runoff is minimal compared to decades ago.  

 

Consumers feel best about recycled content to assuage their irrational conditioned consumer guilt.  Using less, or source reduction, is the most incontrovertible way to go green.  But it's too abstract and not fungible.  

It's an issue for not just the flexible packaging industry.  The green building culture is scrutinizing materials with emphasis on cradle-to-cradle. There are several recent success stories such as the Long Center for performing arts in Austin, TX.

 

This is not new.  Humans have been recycling construction materials for millenia with an efficiency motive. Construction waste is one of the major contributors to landfill, but that's another conversation.  Here is a great infographic about recycling across the globe and in recent U S history.

Like everybody, the meeting and convention industry is under pressure to show they are going green.  
bins.jpgconstructiongarbage.jpgLVrecycle.jpg

Recently, it has become common practice to place a recycling dumpster next to the dumpster for non-recyclables.  What the convention industry used to pitch is turning out to be a massive trove of raw materials.
Here's the bargain: the recycler gets the cast-offs for free.  His cost of goods is the cost of hauling and sorting.

A big problem for both conventions and builders alike is carpet.  Carpet can have several components which makes it hard to sort.  Despite this obstacle, carpet recycling is catching on.  Cleaning and re-shipping carpet is a major headache for convention contractors ( the people who put up the booths, signage and install the
carpet ).  For example - Freeman the industry leader, has at any given moment 300,000 square yards of carpet in a cook's pot being cleaned and recycled.  The trend is toward nonwoven single-use polypropylene #5 used one time and sent to the recycler.  There will be a tipping point if the price drops to where the cost is less than transport + cleaning + transport again. 

The bad news is that even if products could be made with only one resin, it would not be a solution.  The major obstacle to recycling is indifference from the general public.  Proof is the low recycling rate of water bottles.  They are made from polyethylene terephthalate ( PET ) #1.  PET is the only commodity resin FDA approved for 
food contact and medical after repolymerization.  The recycling rate has dropped to 30.1 %.  More than 1 in 3 water bottles are discarded despite the efforts from giants like Coca Cola to make recycling easy.

Could it possibly be that consumers just aren't that concerned about the environment and only pay lip service ? 

It's more fun to blame and vilify evil corporations.

For more information on the 7 basic commodity resin identification codes, watch this short video.

 

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Topics: plastics recycling,, sustainability, resin identification codes, RIC

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