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April 16, 2008

Plastics Bag Recycling

MORE EFFORT REQUIRED FOR BAG RECYCLING: Bag recycling, not bag bans, is the best solution for the plastic bag issue, said Keith Christman, senior packaging director for the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, VA. At the Plastics Recycling conference in Jacksonville, Christman called on industry to put more effort into the recycling of plastic bags. Giving a rundown of bans so far, he pointed out differences in emphasis and impact. The San Francisco ban aimed to replace Platicbags_2 conventional plastic carrier bags with compostable bags in large stores, he said. However, since that ban was instituted, paper bags are being used instead. Comparatively, Whole Foods Market, an Austin, Texas-based retailer of natural and organic foods, has banned plastic bags to promote reusable and paper bags, according to Christman. Litigation and fear of litigation has thwarted similar bans in Oakland and Fairfax, California, and has slowed the trend, he said. Christman said plastic bags are an environmentally responsible choice for several reasons. Conventional plastic bags use 70% less energy than paper bags, and 63% less than compostable plastic, he said. Their greenhouse-gas emissions are also 50% lower than paper and 77% lower than compostable plastic, he said. "Plastic bags use less water and generate less solid waste," he added. Also, a high percentage of consumers reuse plastic bags. Plastics News, 04/07/08, p. 8.

March 05, 2008

Greener Green Energy

GREENER GREEN ENERGY: Solar power produces, per unit of energy, only about one-tenth as much carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions as does conventional power generation, a new study shows. Solar panels don't release harmful gases during use, but making the solar cells does consume materials and energy -- mainly from conventional power sources such as coal-fired power plants, which in turn produce emissions. Industrial techniques for making glass and other materials in solar panels also produce gases such as carbon dioxide. In the 1970s, manufacturing a solar cell required about as much energy as the cell could produce over its 20-year lifetime, so using solar power provided little if any energy gain. Also, as recently as 10 years ago, total emissions from solar cells were about twice what the new study shows. "Solar power has been criticized in the past" for requiring too much energy to produce, says Vasilis M. Fthenakis of the Brookhaven  National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. "But what we find out is that those criticisms are not true with the new technologies." Fthenakis and his colleagues comSolarpanelspiled production records from manufacturers of  four popular kinds of solar cells: multicrystalline silicon, monocrystalline silicon, ribbon silicon, and thin-film cadmium telluride. They calculated that, for each unit of energy produced by solar cells, the net emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants due to the cells' manufacture were between 2 and 11 percent of what power plants in the United States and the European Union would emit to make the same amount of energy, the scientists report online and in the March 15th Environmental Science & Technology. The new tally shows that net emissions from solar power have decreased significantly in recent years. "There have been studies before, but they've become outdated because technology has been changing," says Fthenakis, the study's lead scientist. "It's a really solid piece of analysis," comments Robert M. Margolis, senior energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Washington, D.C. "It's the most up-to-date analysis on solar that's out there." Much of the improvement is from reducing energy and materials for making solar cells. Compared to those made in the 1970s, modern panels contain about one-third as much purified silicon, which is energy intensive to make. And thin-film solar cells trim back even further by depositing silicon or other materials in layers only a few thousandths of a millimeter thick. These improvements in efficiency mean that today's solar panels can "pay back" in only 1 to 3 years the energy needed to make them, the study concludes. Improvements in manufacturing efficiency could reduce emissions from solar power by another 50 percent within 5 to 7 years, the researchers say. Science News, 1 March 2008, p. 133.

December 05, 2007

Hazaedous Waste Incineration

HAZARDOUS WASTE AS FUEL: House lawmakers are asking EPA to take a closer look at its hazardous waste deregulation pWasteawayroposal,  which the chemical industry sought. The plan, released in June, would allow companies to burn hazardous waste as fuel in industrial boilers that provide heat or power. This substitution only would be allowed if such burning would generate air pollution that is comparable to emissions produced by combustion of fuel oil in the boiler. Much of the material the proposal would affect now goes to hazardous waste incinerators, which are more stringently regulated than industrial boilers. In a letter sent last week, 25 members of the House of Representatives asked EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson to assess the proposal's environmental impact at each of 86 industrial facilities expected to benefit from the regulatory rollback. They also faulted EPA's proposal for not including the names and locations of those facilities and how much waste they are expected to burn if the rule becomes final. ":The communities that would see increases in toxic pollutants were not notified until after the EPA comment period ended,": says Representative Mark S. Kirk (R-IL), who signed the letter. This timing, says Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA), another signatory, means ":EPA knowingly denied communities the chance to comment.": EPA data, obtained by the environmental group Earthjustice under the Freedom of Information Act, show that DuPont could benefit the most from the proposed deregulation. Each year, DuPont could burn in industrial boilers an estimated 7,191 tons of material now classified as hazardous waste. Two-thirds of this tonnage would come from DuPont's La Porte, Texas, facility. Chemical & Engineering News, 12/03/07, p. 13.

October 29, 2007

Recycling Alliance

COKE, NRC FORM RECYCLING GRANT PROGRAM: Coca-Cola Co. and the National Recycling Coalition hope a newly formed grant program will help increase the Recycle2  number of beverage recycling containers some communities, businesses, nonprofits and schools use. Twice a year, NRC will choose an unspecified number of organizations and purchase collection bins for them, typically in the 20-40 gallon range, using funds from Coca-Cola. About $75,000 worth of containers will be purchased each time the grants are awarded, beginning next month. Upward of 3,000 or more bins could be bought in each grant period. NRC and Coca-Cola will choose the recipients based on where they anticipate the grants will provide the most benefit, an NRC spokesman said. Washington-based NRC said the idea is to use the purchasing power of Atlanta's Coca-Cola to help organizations obtain more recycling containers than the beneficiaries would be able to purchase if they were to buy on their own. The first deadline is October 26th, with the awards scheduled to be announced November 15th. NRC said it expects around 500 applications in the first round. The next set will be in the spring. Eligible activities include the establishment or expansion of a recycling program at a school, a university, sporting or recreational venue, park or cultural event, as well as at a business or commercial location. An NRC spokesman said the program was a way of setting up a formal structure to respond to the need of organizations for bins and frequent requests for bins. Coca-Cola markets many of its beverages in either PET or aluminum containers. The PET recycling rate has fallen to 23% from 39% in 1994. Aluminum can recycling has dropped from almost 68% in 1992 to slightly less than 52% in 2006. Plastics News, 10/22/07, p. 18.

August 19, 2007


NEW REGULATORY ERA IN EUROPE BEGINS: By the beginning of June, the shouting that had surrounded the rollout of the European Union's REACH chemicals regulatory program was all over. That's when the agency that willEcha administer it -- the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) -- opened its doors in Helsinki, Finland. ECHA aims to provide a window on the chemical regulation process.REACH, which stands for Registration, Evaluation & Authorization of Chemicals, will standardize chemicals regulation throughout the 27-member EU. An estimated 30,000 chemicals and compounds will be affected, at an expected total cost of about $3 billion to the European chemical industry over the next 11 years. Geert Dancet, ECHA's acting executive director, on temporary assignment from the European Commission in Brussels, acknowledges the challenges in setting up what will be one of the most powerful agencies in Europe. He points out that ECHA "is one of the few agencies in the EU with the power to make binding decisions." ECHA is hiring, Dancet says. From about 20 people today, the staff is expected to REACH 100 at the end of the year and to double that level next year. By the time the agency's work is in full swing, he adds, some 450 staffers are expected to be employed at its headquarters in central Helsinki. The agency's budget for its launch year is $20 million. That will increase, Dancet says, over the next 15 years to a working maximum of about $100 million annually. ECHA will be funded mostly by fees paid by industry, with a small balance covered by the EU. Chemical & Engineering News, 08/13/07, pp. 33-35.

June 26, 2007

Plant Security

PLANT SECURITY: The government's top security official warns that his department will not hesitate to fine or even shut down chemical plants that fail to comply with the new national Chertoff mandate for antiterrorism site protection. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff offered his thanks to some 400 chemical industry executives attending the fourth annual Chemical Sector Security Summit in Falls Church. VA, for the broad cooperation shown by the sector as his department developed its enforcement program. "I believe that most U.S. chemical facilities are secure and that most chemical site operators recognize the self-interest that is inherent in protecting their facilities and the communities that surround them," Chertoff told summit participants. "But there probably are some facilities that are not secure and these new regulations are designed to assure that we don't have free riders -- companies that are avoiding the investments and costs of protecting their facilities," he said. "Everyone must make these investments in security and, when necessary, we will apply the stick," Chertoff said. "We will not hesitate to enforce the law." Companies that fail to meet performance-based security standards to be set by the department are subject to fines as high as $25,000/day, and the department also may seek a court order to force the shutdown of a plant until its security measures are brought into compliance. Chemical & Engineering News, 06/18/07, p. 46; ICIS Chemical Business Americas, 06/18/07, p. 8; Chemical Week, 06/20/07, p. 6.

Congress could unravel chemical plant antiterrorism measures now being put into play if it does away with Federal preemption of individual states' security regulations, another top security official warned last week. Robert Stephan, assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, charged that congressional insistence on state rights to enact site security legislation more stringent than the new federal program could even make chemical plants more vulnerable to potential terrorist attacks. The House of Representatives is considering a fiscal year 2008 spending bill for the department that includes language to amend last year's chemical site security law by specifically allowing state governments to enact and enforce their own plant protection regulations even if they conflict with the Federal law. "We find that language very disturbing," Stephan said at the fourth annual Chemical Sector Security Summit. "It is not helpful or productive, and it could unravel the important security work that is already being done at U.S. chemical facilities, and it might only make our chemical plants more vulnerable." ICIS Chemical Business Americas, 06/18/07, p. 8.

May 08, 2007


FARM ENERGY: Energy does not usually come to mind in discussions of agriculture, but times have changed. This year, the chairmen of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have said that energy is likely to be a primary driver in the 2007 farm bill reauthorization. The ethanol and energy provisions in farm bill may help or hinder feedstock shift from corn to cellulose.


More Ethanol: Biorefinery owners have much to gain in farm bill reauthorization.

Today, farm energy means corn, and corn-based ethanol has redrawn the U.S. farm landscape. Both chairmen, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Collin C. Peterson (D-MN), hope to pass a farm bill that walks a thin line between developing noncorn cellulosic ethanol without upsetting the current buoyant corn market, which has so greatly benefited farmers and rural communities. Every half-dozen or so years, Congress takes up a farm bill. The first was in 1933; the most recent, in 2002, was the first bill to carry specific energy provisions. In the next farm bill, which legislators hope to pass this year, energy and ethanol will most certainly play a big role. Chemical & Engineering News, 05/07/07, pp. 50-52.

March 21, 2007

Green Investments

GREEN ATTRACTS INVESTMENT DOLLARS: If you have a solid idea for anything green or clean, and it involves recycling plastics or making bio-based Koester products, there are plenty of investment dollars available. "There are so many dollars being invested in the clean-tech space right now, that if you have the right team and the right idea, you can find investors if you look in the right space," said Eric Koester, a lawyer in the Seattle office of San Francisco-based law firm Heller Ehrman LLP, which claimed to be one of the top 25 U.S. law firms for merger and acquisition activity in 2006, based on its number of deals. Koester spoke at the Global Plastics Environmental Conference, held March 6-7 in Orlando and sponsored by the Society of Plastics Engineers in Brookfield, CT. According to Koester, investment in clean technology is no longer a "niche play," but a mainstream venture-capital market because of growing bipartisan political support and consumers' renewed appetite for Earth-friendly products. "There are a lot of investment dollars in areas such as California, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and the Northeast, where laws are environmentally friendly and support clean technology," said Koester. "That is where investors lean toward putting their investment dollars. It is more of a pull than a push, particularly in California and the Silicon Valley." U.S. and European clean technology venture-capital investments topped $3.6 billion in 2006, according to Cleantech Venture Network LLC in Ann Arbor, MI. That's a 44% increase over the $2.5 billion invested in clean technology in 2005 and more than twice the $1.7 billion spent in 2004. Plastics News, 03/26/07, online.

Seven years ago, second-generation owner Ron Greitzer was searching for a way to keep the family recycling business thriving. The textile Fiber cut-and-sew companies that long had supplied Los Angeles Fiber Co. with cloth for recycling had moved their operations to Mexico. He still remembers walking through the plant in Vernon, CA, admonishing a worker for tossing a carpet into the recycling machine. "'You can't do that!' I screamed," Greitzer said. But when the worker laughed and said he'd been doing that for 15 years, Greitzer realized the company had found the new feedstock it needed. "We had to retool all our machines, but we knew we had a plentiful feedstock, because there are 5 billion pounds of it going into landfills each year." Today, the company diverts 100 million pounds of carpet each year from landfills -- enough, Greitzer said, to fill the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, three times. Los Angeles Fiber was one of two winners in plastics recycling and one of nine environmental award winners Global Plastics Environmental Conference, held March 5-7 in Orlando. The conference is organized by the Society of Plastics Engineers Plastics Environmental Division. Plastics News, 03/28/07, online.

If there was any doubt as to how quickly the issues of sustainability and bio-based resins have shot to the front of plastics firms' agendas, the Global Plastics Environmental Conference erased it. Despite competing sessions, nearly every presentation on bio-based and biodegradable materials was standing-room-only and elicited a barrage of questions focused on how well they work and where efforts to bring such products to market stand. Company after company repeated the same mantra -- that they are working to develop products from renewable resources or on projects designed to improve end-of-life product recycling, or both. Plastics News, 03/26/07, online.

February 07, 2007

Bisphenol A

BISPHENOL A DISRUPTS FETAL-EGG DEVELOPMENT: A common estrogen-mimicking chemical can damage eggs while an animal is still in the womb, researchers report. Bisphenol A is found in polycarbonate plastics -- those used to make baby bottles and hard-shell water bottles -- and in the lining of food Bpa cans. The chemical also turns up in human tissues at concentrations of several parts per billion. Earlier research had linked bisphenol A to reproductive problems in male and female mice. In 2003, molecular geneticist Patricia A. Hunt of Washington State University in Pullman and her colleagues exposed female mice to doses of the chemical typical of environmental concentrations. This increased the likelihood that eggs would have abnormal numbers of chromosomes. But "the process of making an egg is incredibly long," notes Hunt. Egg development begins in the female fetus, stops before birth, and then resumes just before ovulation. To look for effects of exposure during the earlier developmental phase, Hunt's team implanted bisphenol A pellets in pregnant mice. The pellets released the same dose used in the group's earlier experiment. The researchers compared eggs from the female offspring of these pregnant mice with eggs from mice whose mothers had carried a placebo pellet. Up to 40% of the eggs from females exposed to bisphenol A as fetuses had abnormal numbers of chromosomes, the group reports in the January PLoS Genetics. Only about 3% of the placebo group showed that abnormality. Science News, 02/03/07, p. 78.

December 05, 2006


CONTROLLING NOx EMISSIONS: Using newly available satellite data, scientists in the U.S. and Germany have shown that atmospheric concentrations of NOx -- the combination of NO and NO2 central to the production of near-surface ozone and smog -- have declined over the Ohio River Valley by about 40% since 1999 (Geophys. Res. Lett., DOI: 10.1029/2006GL027749).

Ohio NOx Drops: Satellite data indicate that ozone-forming pollutants have declined in the Ohio River Valley, where power plants are the dominant source of NOx (big box), but not in the northeast, where mobile sources dominate (small box).

In-stack NOx measurements from power plants fitted with emissions controls have been indicating declining NOx emissions, but it has taken atmospheric transport and chemistry models to get pictures of the larger, regional consequences. Now, Si-Wan Kim, Stuart McKeen, Gregory Frost, and Michael Trainer of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and their colleagues have turned to orbiting sensors to measure those regional NOx trends more directly. "We have used satellite-borne measurement to demonstrate that the reduction of NOx by power plants has been effective" in the Ohio River Valley, Kim says. Similar declines in NOx levels did not show up along the Northeast Corridor, where cars and other mobile sources, rather than power plants, are the dominant NOx sources. Computer models of near-surface ozone production suggest that the diminishing NOx levels should be reflected by 4-10% reductions in ozone in the Ohio River Valley and nearby regions, the researchers report. Preliminary on-ground ozone measurements confirm that simulation result, comments Kenneth L. Schere of EPA's Atmospheric Sciences Modeling Division. Chemical & Engineering News, 12/04/06, p. 13.


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