If we're going to throw money at the plastic problem let's aim well

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From straws to toilet paper you can now buy everything in "sustainable" form, but should you?

If you’ve ever attempted a waste reduction challenge such as Plastic-free July or Zero-Waste, you’ve most definitely encountered countless blog postsinfographics, and even celebrities telling you to buy some new products.

These tell you that to reduce your carbon footprint, you surely need a new reusable water bottle, a stainless steel razor, non-plastic straws, recycled toilet paper, reusable period products, maybe a full wardrobe update, possibly a new partner, a new house, a career change, different outlook into your spending habits, move into a different planet…

Some of these make more sense than the others, and some of them have a more positive impact when it comes to doing good for the planet and its inhabitants. Can you guess which ones are the most sensible, effective lifestyle switches?

Before we dive in, and before some of you get very angry at me, the numbers I mention here are mostly anecdotal. They are based on research but also on assumptions. Such as assuming an average person drinks two litres of water every day, thus buys two litres worth of plastic bottles.

So, while the numbers don’t hold a scientific prowess, I believe they provide a good perspective to look at our consumption habits and our impact on the planet.

Here are three examples of lifestyle changes, and my take on their effectiveness

1. Reusable water bottle

The first thing you’re told to get when attempting to reduce waste is a reusable water bottle. These come in all shapes, sizes and price points. But how do they compare with the old single-use when it comes to carbon footprint?

How much water a person needs a day differs depending on factors such as age, height, weight, etc.  For this, let’s take the popular two litres a day as the basis for calculation.

An average one-litre bottle is 70 cents (in the Netherlands), thus if you were to drink the two litres per day, your yearly water expenditure would be over 400 euros. A mid-price reusable water bottle is around 12 euros, so what are you going to do with all that money you save by carrying around your own bottle?

2) Stainless steel razor, non-plastic straws, recycled toilet paper

These are more “luxury” switches compared to the reusable water bottle. Recycled toilet paper, for example, is more than double the price of the regular. And there isn’t enough evidence to argue that using recycled toilet paper would have a significant impact on climate change. Same goes for a stainless steel razor. Do we know enough about the impact of doing the switch that would justify its steep price?

So it’s a good idea to think whether the switch is “worth it.” Is the impact big enough the justify the price? Are we buying these product to feel better about ourselves?

3) Different outlook into one’s spending habits

If you’re already considering a plastic and/or waste-free lifestyle it’s safe to say you care about the environment. When we are faced with large, scary numbers — 500 million plastic straws a day — or heartbreaking videos of animals suffering because of plastic waste, wanting to do something about it is a natural response.

When the urge to do something hits, many people go the plastic-free way. The current hype around this lifestyle switch makes it easy to find information, and the plethora of companies selling sustainable lifestyle products make it easy to purchase all kinds of things.

But is buying more stuff actually impactful, or even sustainable? Is it just another way of feeling good about ourselves?

There is nothing wrong about wanting to feel better about oneself and doing good is the best way to go about it, but the money that would otherwise be spent on these kinds of sustainable goods can be much more useful if we took a different approach.

There’s no research on the impact one can make in the long run by switching to a stainless-steel razor, but you can take the 75E you would spend on that razor and spend it in a way that will have an effect on an urgent issue. How? By donating the money to an organisation that’s working towards a cause you care about.

Yes, you’re doing a good deed by using a reusable water bottle, but how about taking those 300 something Euros you save from not purchasing single-use bottles and donating it to an impactful cause?

I think it's safe to say plastic-free living is a choice for the privileged. So why not use our privilege to support a good cause? Here are some organisations you can donate to that are working hard towards cleaning up our oceans:

  • Blue Ventures is an organisation that is working towards catalysing and sustaining locally led marine conservation.
  • Plastic soup is one of the leading advocacy groups to tackle plastic pollution
  • Conservation International is working to build a healthier, more prosperous and more productive planet through science, policy and partnerships with countries, communities and companies. 
  • The Ocean Foundation supports, strengthens, and promotes organizations dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments around the world.

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  • The Sky has a Limit

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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)

    🎫 How can I get in? We’re offering two ticket levels: Economy (free) and Business Class (for the price of a donation to Cool Earth). Secure your seat now!

    More about The Sky has a Limit

    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

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  • How flying cars could help solve the problem of air pollution


    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." 

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  • Why the current state of aviation is one of the main threats to our planet


    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.

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