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11 posts from March 2009

March 31, 2009

This is big! Algae, the next 'Disruptive Technology'

Wow! I didn't know this was coming, even though it is still a few years off. I researched this, it seems real enough and incredible.

Its... oil from algae, the replacement for oil from foreigners.

It seems that algae can produce more oil per acre than any other organic matter, by a mile!
What's better, underground oil that takes millions of years to make, or algae oil that replicates itself every six hours?

I'm only getting up to speed on this now, but the facts and potential are mind boggling!

  • 100 times more oil per acre than other crops
  • Requires only waste water and sunshine
  • Algae eats bad CO2 and produces good oxygen
  • It doesn't come from foreigners
  • Ideal for desert land, doesn't displace good property
  • Algae by-product is high protein food!

Now, I always thought Hydrogen Fusion would solve the world's energy problems and it has yet to come to fruition. I don't know if this is a mid-step but it is dramatic. A 1/10th area of New Mexico (desert) could produce ALL of the USA's annual oil needs!

And of course, derivatives of this oil can be used for all types of polymers.

Algae Production

Related Links

Al Fin's Blog
AlgaeVenture Press Release

March 30, 2009

Some Good News - Internet Ad Revenue Hits Record High 23 Billion

News I like to see:

Q4 '08 Revenues Total $6.1 Billion; Growth Continues Despite Difficult Economy

Interactive Advertising Bureau Site The Interactive Advertising Bureau is THE organization for internet ad standards and revenue reports. The 4th quarter revenue report shows total revenue of over 23 Billion and continued, albeit slower, growth.

Since most plastics.com revenue is via internet advertising, mostly by way of our sponsorships, this is good news for us. It also means continued bad news for print ads as growth in manufacturing industries revenue is coming mostly at the cost of print ad revenue. IAB reposts this is the 5th consecutive year of record results.

A copy of the full report is available at: http://www.iab.net/AdRevenueReport


Don't Blame the Plastics!

Check this out. Its from Bangalore.

Trash Canal

Kids play here!
It is a drinking water source
Waste water floods it
Animal graze here

This isn't the fault of plastics. It is the fault of people, some very dumb people.

You don't solve this problem by banning plastics. How do you stop it?

March 28, 2009

Plastic Free Life - Just One Word... SILLY

Well, its Saturday. More time, verbosity at maximum...engage!

OK, my thoughts on this were formed long ago, but it's reached a point where I need to re-express myself.

I'm talking about people who try to live without plastics. Hello people? You cannot live without plastics!

A Chicago Tribune writer wrote about the time her household tried going plastic-free for a week

Reading her article before continuing here will make this argument more linear. This poor misguided person makes so many mistakes in typical fashion.

  • To save on a little plastics bag energy, they drive all over town, to the bagel shop, to the bakery, to get products without bags. She made things worse, not better.
  • Rubber toy ball to replace a plastic toy ball, end result, no change.
  • Metal bottle versus a strong Plastics bottle, I'm sure the energy factor favors plastic.
  • She protests about melamine, being found in eggs, infant formula and milk from China. It was put in as POISON, there is no environmental error here, it was a CRIMINAL act by people adding the chemical to falsely get higher protein levels, by using poison. Do we blame rat poison when someone murders with it?
  • paper vs plastic diapers, bad choice, more below, not to mention the leaks
  • missing meals and drinks to prevent plastics usage...harmful to ones self, silly. Now if you need to lose weight or eat better, do so, but don't blame the plastics, blame yourself.

She says she is addicted to plastics. We are, in the same way we're addicted to oxygen. Does anyone protest oxygen addicts? Minimize waste smartly? Sure! Villianize an entire material without better alternatives? Silly!

I do commend her for:

  • Minimizing trash in practical ways, reusable bags, etc
  • Protesting BPA in baby bottles, but I like that kind of specific protest

This poor woman feels GUILTY! It is so misplaced to villianize the entire raw material class rather than the specific poor designs, poor material decisions, based on rational and scientific comparisons. She has no need to feel guilty. She needs to get specific.

Plastics are not tied up with Karma, but WASTE might be. Protest WASTE intelligently, not just blindly. Be specific, have alternatives that are BETTER, not WORSE.

Now I do admire the idealism that brings people to this. I understand and appreciate the good intentions. But unless you want to kill off 90% of the population and return to caveman technologies, it simply is SO IMPRACTICAL as to be funny.

Now I'm ALL FOR reducing plastics consumption, plastics waste, using reusable bags at shopping etc.  Plastics is ubiquitous in our life, it is now and will ever be so, for our lives at least (Short of that giant meteor crashing).

These folks VILLAINIZE the entire material. It's EVIL, BAD, etc.  Ah, give me a break!

A responsible attitude would be to protest and be activist in calling for responsible usage. Responsible packaging, mandatory recycling, responsible designs for reuse, responsible support of recycling campaigns, anti-litter campaigns, etc. There is lots of room for meaningful, practical and responsible activism, rather than waste your time on a FANTASY of 'plastics free'.

That attitude is so misguided, by ultra liberal attitudes that rush to use the EVIL card.  And there is so much hype, so much noise that many people who hear this begin to believe it. True or not.

The simple fact is that with the size of our population, massive replacement of plastics is not possible without creating worse consequences.

What are the replacements for plastics? Wood, metal, plants, animals.

Replace plastics with wood and poof, there go your forests, and don't even get me started on the environmental issues of wood production, dioxin, etc.  You can easily make a case it is worse than plastics.  And the loss of all of that forestation could affect global climate right? This is WORSE, not better for the environment.

Replace plastics with metal?  If you do so you will usually see no change in recyclability, more energy required to make and transport goods, designs require more individual parts, more factories, more energy, transporting heavier products, more energy, more factories, more pollution. This is WORSE, not better for the environment.

Replace plastics with plants and animals? Cotton, Hemp, Leather etc.  I read a unbiased study of the requirements for the world to replace plastics where possible with plant goods and animal goods, ie. cotton and leather, etc.  It was just a simple math exercise. The amount of land required to grow the plants and graze the animals was not sustainable for our population size without RIDICULOUS and ENORMOUS environmental damage that makes the current status look like heaven.  It calculated the trillions of animals and acres required, the CO2 effect, the methane effect, the deforestation effect. I wish I had these stats around, but in just one word... SCARY

Which brings me to my annoyance. Ignorant activism without realistic alternatives. Plastics are not EVIL. Granted some plastics packaging is absolutely evil  *insert evil grin here*. 

My suggestion: find activism with reasonable alternatives, not just blind complaints with worse alternatives that are not well thought out.  And where is our industry in publicizing this?  Its simple math, we're VASTLY worse off with the alternatives, so rather than DEMONIZE it, educate people and fight for responsible usage of this necessary class of material.  I support that all day long.

I worked in recycling for many years, mainly finding ways to add value to industrial scrap, rather than landfill it. I have a chemistry patent involving recycling. I was one of the SPE's Environmental Division original founders. Its a subject I'm knowledgeable about.

Some of the more common misconceptions I read about in these blogs:

Styrofoam bad: When McDonalds changed from Styrofoam food packaging to paper, it was closely studied first. And the facts showed two things; plastics were better in every regard, plastics were perceived as bad by the public.  As I recall McDonalds apologized to plastics industry executives and said that despite the superiority of plastic over paper, they had to switch because of public perception.

As I recall, in food tastes people preferred the food taste/warmth when plastic was used.  The plastic had an overall smaller 'carbon footprint' than the paper. The paper has its own significant environmental issues.

Paper bags vs Plastic bags

First, I think any reusable bag is clearly better than any disposable bag. But I do not believe paper is the winner when the two go head to head.  The energy per bag is much smaller with plastic. Little things add up strongly when you're talking billions or trillions of bags. Oil that the bag is made from, as well as oil used to manufacture is less with plastics than paper. The lighter weight has a significant energy affect when you transport billions of heavier paper bags. More trucking gas, more trucks, more drivers, it goes on and on.

Where is the public outcry to study for which raw material is actually BETTER for minimizing environmental damage and total usage of energy.

I laughed when I saw the article talking about switching to rubber toys instead of plastics. Sigh, there is no difference, the rubber , regardless of if its natural or synthetic, goes through the same process, its as good or bad as the plastic. It is plastic.

Ocean plastics litter! 

A good example of the villainy put on plastics. The problem is started with littering floating down river and out to the ocean. What happened to the crying Indian looking at litter I saw as a kid? Bring him back. Protest littering! Protest crummy design choices. Protest crummy plastic material choices. It isn't plastics that are bad. It's specific human behavior and human design that needs vast improvement, not just blind villainy.

Cloth versus Plastic Diapers!

A recent study showed plastic diapers have a smaller environmental footprint, barely, when compared to rewashing over and over and the energy involved.  But what liberal will ever believe this?  Where are the well publicized, unbiased studies?  This is what kids should be doing their master's thesis on.

Long term effect, landfills and incineration

When I worked in recycling I met many incineration officials and they all agreed on one strong point. High incineration temperatures produced cleaner incineration and reductions in the plastics component of the waste stream made it much more difficult to attain the higher, cleaner burn temperatures. The engineers said that plastic wasn't just desired in the feed, it was needed for optimum operation.

Don't get me started on landfills where people say the plastic will last forever. So won't the paper and almost everything else. Landfills are a non-oxygen environment that vastly stalls degradation of anything. Dig up a hundred year old landfill and you can read the newspaper!

Also, I'm a firm believer that landfills are a fine temporary solution and that in a hundred years or so, all of the landfills will be being dug up, mined essentially, for the raw materials to be found there.

So. in conclusion, I advise all anti-plastics activists to get real, get specific, get better alternatives and protest specifically against plastics usage than can be improved by a better alternate choice, an alternate design, an alternate material choice, specific legislation based on specific BETTER alternatives.

To blindly protest plastics, you might as well go out there and protest the ocean itself, or dirt. Plastic is ubiquitous and it will necessarily remain so. Protest to improve, not to just hear your own voice.

Some More Alternative Voices

Life Less Plastics

The Great Plastic Challenge

Fake Plastic Fish

March 27, 2009

Chinese Melamine Tainters sentenced to life and death

The businessmen who tainted milk and protein products with the plastics chemical melamine in order to fake high protein levels have had their sentences for life in prison or the death penalty confirmed by a court in China today.  At least six were killed and 300,000 sickened.

Details in The Peninsula Article

March 26, 2009

Some plastics topics discussed around the world today, March 26th, 2009

Here are some plastics things people are saying about us today:

Cedar Grove’s industrial composting facility

Alan Weisman notes 'Polymers are forever'

BPA's safety remains in question

Food Talk : Disposable plastic bottles shouldn't be reused

The over-supplied petrochemical industry

March 25, 2009

Birds of a Feather.... turn into plastics?

Now this is not brand new news, but who knew you could make plastics from bird feathers?

I should know. As a plastics engineer with an interest in plastics history and plastics new ongoing discoveries, I should be the last person to be surprised by this, but still...

I now believe that you can make plastics from ANYTHING organic and swear to never be surprised by the next story of this ilk waiting around the corner.

I've learned you can make plastics from:

  • Keratin Protein; chicken feathers (and fingernails are made of this too)
  • Algae
  • Corn, the miracle plant
  • Swamp Grass
  • Milk
  • Rice
  • Hemp
  • Cellulose from cotton and wood fiber
  • Sugar Cane
  • Tree Sap
  • Pig Urine, I kid you not, a future blog no doubt
  • Orange Peels
  • Curry
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Soybeans
  • Sea Grasses
  • Seed Proteins
  • and more...

Now I said it seems plastics can be made from almost anything organic, but the organics from the list above is from stuff that has actually been done! Many of these are very similar to petroleum based plastics in properties and many offer improved recyclablity or biodegradability.

Back to Poultry Feather Plastic! 

Burning Diaper

Justin R. Barone, Associate Professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech patented “Polymer Composites Containing Keratin”, a process to create biodegradable plastics from agricultural byproducts such as poultry feathers and eggs that would be comparable to petroleum-based plastics. It can also function as an additive improving processibility and recyclibility.

The photo shows a sample of plastics made from Keratin.

photo courtesy of www.sciencedaily.com

Speaking of recycling, I once toured a recycling plant in Leominster, Mass. that was recycling McDonalds Styrofoam back into polystyrene pellets. The manager proudly gave me a tour from incoming trash to cleaned packaged gaylords of pellets. But then I opened the lid of one of the gaylords (for those that don't know, running your fingers thru a fresh gaylord of pellets is somewhat akin to bursting bubble wrap, mildly addictive). When I opened the box, out came an OVERWHELMING smell of BigMac!  Ah, was that funny Thinking of the things you could mold with McDonalds smelling styrene!  In all fairness I'm told they licked that problem. Arrghh, no pun intended!

Anyone want to whip up some plastic milk in their kitchen? Here ya go:

MAKE YOUR OWN PLASTIC! Most plastics derive from oil (petroleum) but you can create the same kind of linked molecules with milk. (1) Pour 1/2 cup milk or heavy cream into a saucepan and heat to simmering over low to medium heat. (2) Stir in a few spoonfuls of vinegar or lemon juice; continue adding until mixture starts to gel. (3) Remove pan from heat and cool, then rinse the rubbery curds with water. The curds are plastic, formed by the chemical reaction between the casein in the milk and the acid in the vinegar or lemon juice. www.sciencedaily.com

March 21, 2009

Death of a Diaper

Burning Diaper Now I may sound a bit unsympathetic, I'm not. An elderly man burned to death in Seattle and he was wearing an adult diaper. This poor guy was a veteran and had loved ones so this post is NOT about him.

Its about the ridiculous (to me) claim they are making on the diaper mfg that they should have a warning label, and are suing for damages.  From what I've read the real culprit is the elderly home that allowed him to smoke unsupervised, which was against the rules. He was outdoors, fully dressed, windy, and his cigarette started his clothes on fire.

The family is suing the care facility (rightly) AND the diaper mfg (wrongly) because no doubt they have the biggest pockets.  Lawyers...

This reminds me of the hot MacDonalds coffee lawsuit. Oh, but that lady WON didn't she?  These people may too then.  Why doesn't paper come with a flammability warning?

And why blame the diaper when the man was fully clothed with the diaper underneath?  His other clothes had to catch fire before the diaper.

Why? I'll tell you why. Because the diaper is plastic, period. Blame the bad plastic. People are SHOCKED that it burns! Wheres the outrage over paper burning?

Makes me mad. But then I remember it really isn't about the plastic, its about the lawyers and big, fat targets.

That makes me madder, but at least the blame is now in the right place!

Packaging Digest Article

Video interview and burning diaper demo  

March 20, 2009

Faux wood from Hemp and Plastics, Better than Wood?

Click here to see full image As Randy on American Idol says, "Check it out Dude! This is DOPE!" And here it is indeed, a faux wood made from plastic and the hemp plant that looks like it is better for the environment than real wood!

Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment, under Professor Sarah Billington, this material made from hemp fibers and a biodegradable plastic resin called polyhydroxy-butyrate (PHB) behaves just like wood, but can be processed like plastic resin.

Apparently hemp grows faster than trees and is hence a better material environmentally.

Attractive, strong, moldable and it degrades in a landfill environment (but not in the outdoors in air).

Current applications are in wood replacement in construction, but many natural plastics markets have potential.

Stanford Release

* © Stanford University

March 19, 2009

The House of Cellophane

Now this is interesting...

Seems that MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, sponsored this cellophane building platform. Very cool.

Kie01_03-300x225 According to prefabupdate.com...

Cellophane House encompasses the architects’ beliefs in a holistic approach to design: allowing architecture to grow out of its opportunities and constraints. It is a material moment of equilibrium that surrenders itself to any and all entropic forces that may come its way. At its core, the project is no more than a framework from which a designer or client creates an enclosure using a virtually infinite palette of off-the-shelf entities, a veritable model of customization. Through simple modifications, the house can adapt to a range of site conditions, as well as to material, textural, and color options as required by the budget and tastes of the client.



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