The amount of plastic we produce to package consumer goods, especially fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) — packaged foods, beverages, toiletries — has reached an unprecedented level. We are draining our planet to produce these packages: plastics are made from fossil fuels and 8% of the worlds annual petroleum production is converted into making plastics.
On top of the environmental repercussions of the production process, most plastics produced for packaging FMCG are not recyclable, and even if they are, we don't recycle them. Only 14% of plastic packaging gets collected for recycling which then goes through a sorting process and in the end, only 5% of all plastic is reintroduced to the production cycle.
There is no one single solution to the plastic phenomenon. On the one hand, the rate we're producing and consuming plastics is destroying our living planet. On the other, plastic is a light-weight, durable and relatively cheap to produce material. It saves on transportation costs — both financially and environmentally — keeps food safe to consume for a long time, and allows us to produce solutions like malaria nets, which save lives for two dollars per net.
The complex problem of plastics needs to be tackled from all fronts. Yes, reducing one's personal plastic waste is part of the solution but we also need to think about the larger picture. Plastic doesn't just cover the garden tomatoes in the supermarket, it's everywhere and anywhere.
Alongside consumer-centric solutions, there is also a growing need for designing new materials that can replace the plastic we can't (and don't) recycle. The new materials need to have all the positive aspects of plastic — durable, lightweight, cheap — and replace all the negative ones — made from fossil fuels, non-recyclable, and non-biodegradable.
Luckily for us, innovators from all over the world have been trying to replace/reinvent plastic for a while now, and it's exciting to see the innovations coming up that are simple and promising at the same time.
Evoware is one such company that is producing a plastic alternative. The Indonesia based company produces eco-friendly, bio-degradable and even edible packaging solutions. Their packaging is seaweed-based which means it dissolves in warm water, is 100% biodegradable and it's not only safe to eat it also contains good fibres, vitamins, and minerals naturally found in seaweed. And despite being edible and biodegradable Evoware’s products have a 2-year shelf life.
Another exciting plastic alternative is NUATAN, a new sustainable material developed by the design and research studio Crafting Plastics. According to the studio, NUATAN is “made out of 100% raw renewable resources, polymerised from corn starch and metabolised by microorganisms, and it is compostable”. It also supposedly has a lifespan up to 15 years and can withstand temperatures up to 110 degrees Celsius.
The designers currently produce value-added products made from NUATAN, like designer glasses, where the price doesn’t differ much from their non-biodegradable counterparts; but they are hoping that the demand for bioplastics can bring the price of production down so NUATAN can be used in industrial scale.
And this is the main problem of bioplastics. As promising as they sound, the two examples above (and many other plastic alternatives) are produced in small quantities and mostly on demand. The cost of production is currently higher than traditional, planet-destroying plastic thus it’s challenging to break into the very established production cycles.
However, this is also where the above mentioned multiple fronts come into the picture. The one thing that could — and does — convince big scale industries towards a switch is customer demand. So, reducing one’s plastic consumption might not have an immediate and statistically significant effect in the environmental battle but it does have an impact on the greater scale.
For example, recently The Guardian announced their switch to a potato starch-based plastic alternative for the packaging of their print edition. The packaging is completely biodegradable and dissolves within six weeks.
A few months before that, Lego launched sustainable bricks made from a plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane. Explaining the launch as the first step in the company’s goal to go fully bioplastic in 203o, Tim Brooks, Lego’s Vice President of Environmental Responsibility said: “children and parents will not notice any difference in quality or appearance of the new elements”.
In the grand scheme of things these steps are quite minuscule and some might deem them frivolous, but if we keep sitting and waiting (and writing) for the ‘big’ change it’s highly unlikely to come out of nowhere. The future of plastic lies not in its complete demise but in its reinvention as bioplastics.
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Join us for the second of our Kinder Conversations - the Sky has a Limit.
Following our investigation into the Future of Meat in February, we've turned our attention to the sky. We'll be talking about whether air travel can be more sustainable, and how.
We're delighted to be hosting this event in collaboration with our friends at TQ, the Amsterdam tech hub where we're based.
📅 When Monday 17 June 18:30 - 20:30
📭 Where TQ, Singel 542, Amsterdam
🎯 Why should I fly Kinder? To hear about the latest research and technology making air travel more sustainable. To find out what you can do to reduce the impact your flights are having. To share a drink with like-minded travelers, and sample some of our vegan snacks (including beloved Professor Grunschnabel ice cream, as seen at the Future of Meat event)
Here at Kinder, we believe that greener travel is one of the key ways in which we can tackle the climate crisis. Travelling green can mean a lot of things, but right now we’re concerned about the aviation industry.
If aviation were a country, it’d be a top 10 polluter - and C02 emissions from air travel are growing many times faster than any other form. We’re already in a very dangerous position, and although there are many potential solutions, we sometimes feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do about it.
That’s where Kinder Conversations comes in.
Kinder Conversations is a series of events which delve into the biggest issues facing the world.
At the Sky has a Limit, we’ll be bringing together representatives from research and technology, the aviation industry and the not-for-profit sector to talk about sustainable air travel. We’ll hear more about the problem, and a lot more about the solutions.
Plus, there’ll be time to get a drink from TQ’s bar (buying a drink helps our friends from TQ support more events like this), try some vegan ice cream, and chat to fellow travellers about the steps you can take to travel greener.
✈️ Are you ready to #flykinder? Then secure your boarding pass here.
I don't have a driving license and when pressed about getting one by friends tired of chauffeuring me around I usually say I will only get one if I can drive something cool, like the Batmobile or a flying car. Unfortunately, I might have to honour that promise as it seems that flying cars are finally taking off (alas, no commercial Batmobiles in sight).
Indeed, several promising startups around the world are working to deliver the "car of the future" over the next few years. Like the Dutch company PAL-V that showed off a limited edition of its flying car at the Geneva Auto Show in Switzerland.
The PAL-V is a hybrid between a car and a helicopter (or more precisely, a gyrocopter), able to reach a top speed of 160 km/h on the tarmac but also get airborne in just 5 minutes, hitting airspeeds of 180 km/h over a range of up to 500 km. But since buying a PAL-V will set you back around € 350,000 I might have to pass on this one. Moreover, flying this beauty requires not just a driving license but also (understandably) a license to fly, and that's just too much for me.
Thankfully, other companies are developing vehicles that need no driver at all. Aerospace manufacturer Bell Helicopter, for example, is working on Nexus, an air taxi capable of taking off and landing in the middle of a city (whereas the PAL-V still needs a runway, albeit short, to get airborne).
Called VTOLs (short for Vertical Take Off and Landing), these aircraft aim to become sort of an Uber of urban air travel, bringing customers to the opposite part of the city or even to a nearby city in a matter of few minutes.
If you're at JFK airport in New York, for example, and have a meeting in Manhattan, instead of embarking on a 1-hour, Cosmopolis-style taxi ride, you could just hail a flying car and be downtown in 5 minutes.
Futuristic as it may sound, concrete plans to make it come true are underway. Earlier this month, German startup Lilium successfully completed the first test of its new five-seater Lilium Jet, an electric vehicle that, according to the company, will have a range of 300 km and a top speed of 300 km/h.
The reason electric flight is such an exciting area of research is not just because flying taxis will allow a handful of high rollers to drastically cut on their commuting time. Electric flying cars might be really good for the environment too.
A recent study published by Nature highlighted that, in some cases, flying cars could eventually be greener than even electric road cars, cutting emissions while reducing traffic on increasingly busy roads.
Moreover, developments in the field of flying cars could also boost the research on electric flight at large, including long haul electric flights, sort of the Holy Grail of aviation. And, as known, the civil aviation industry needs to find effective ways to lower its carbon emissions as soon as possible.
However, as explained by Hugh Hunt in an article on The Conversation that we republished here on Kinder World, "gaps in necessary technology and practical uncertainties beyond the cars’ promising physics mean that they may not arrive in time to be a large-scale solution to the energy crisis and congestion."
Let's get this one thing straight: most people prefer flying to other modes of transport, and we seem to do it more and more often. The airline industry is booming and 4.1 billion passengers have been transported last year. Almost every figure one looks at shows the impressive increase in flights over the last two decades.
Alexandre de Juniac, head of the International Association for Flight Transport proclaims: “In 2000, the average citizen flew just once every 43 months. In 2017, the figure was once every 22 months. Flying has never been more accessible. And this is liberating people to explore more of our planet for work, leisure, and education. Aviation is the business of freedom."
However, this ‘business of freedom’ runs on fossil energy carriers as planes still almost exclusively fly on kerosene. Kerosene is a fuel produced by oil refining and carbon dioxide (CO2) is the major product of burning kerosene. The 2-5% of all global CO2 emissions the aviation industry emits is caused by its fuel consumption (and choice). And unlike other fuels like diesel or gasoline, airlines don't pay taxes on kerosene in most countries — making cheap air travel possible.
In 2018 Europe’s biggest airline Ryanair became number 9 in the list of Europe’s biggest CO2 emitters and still claims to be the ‘greenest and cleanest airline’. Andrew Murphy – the aviation manager at the European Federation for Transport and Environment — argues that Ryanair the new coal when it comes to climate pollution. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, on the other hand, dismisses such claims by saying the claims are ‘’complete and utter rubbish’’.
Other airlines, like KLM who partly uses renewable jet-fuel, are acknowledging the problem but they aren't too far behind Ryanair on the list of emitters.
The growth of the industry is not expected to slow down. India and China are the biggest growth markets, the latter alone is building 200 new commercial airports in the next ten years. Moreover, industry forecasts suggest that emissions will rise by 700% until 2050 which amounts to more than 4% of the world’s remaining carbon budget.
If we want to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, every the average earthling has a quota of two tons of CO2 per annum but just a return trip between New York and Amsterdam generates three tons already.
Compared to other modes of transport planes are the biggest CO2 emitters per travelled kilometre followed by cars, buses and finally trains which are the least polluting. The CO2 emissions, however, are only one half of the medal. The impact of flying on global warming is different than most other transport as it happens in the air high above the ground where the processes that cause or reduce global warming happen. These include CO2 and nitrogen oxide emission but also cloud formation, ozone and soot as well as methane reduction.
The climate impact of the emitted greenhouse gases in the stratosphere are three times higher than on the ground. Flying also causes condensation trails and fog clouds in certain weather conditions. Such clouds can have a warming or a cooling effect on the climate. One way to improve the climate effect of flying would be planning better routes where warming clouds are avoided and the formation of cooling clouds is favoured — our current routes have an overall warming effect.
So, hypothetically, some flights with clever flight-route planning might even reduce global warming. However, as we don't have time to hypothesise, we need to find and urgently implement other ways to bring down the impact of flying, like using better fuels or even better planes.
This article was written by Eric Schuler for Kinder World. Schuler is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam and works on new industrial sustainable chemistries to turn captured CO2 into useful things such as plastics or fuel. He's also a photojournalist with an interest in climate and land-use change.