If you don’t believe Climate Change is real, then you must have been living under a rock! We need to stop or slow down the rate at which climate change is happening!
Climate change refers to changes in the Earth’s climate from the gradual rise in temperature caused by high levels of Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Climate change is caused by the enhanced Greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a process that occurs when gases in Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat.
660 thousand tonnes of plastic waste every year are created by Australians. 85% of soft plastics from bags and packaging ends up in landfill. The problem with plastic ending up in landfill is that it emits Methane and Carbon Dioxide. These are both potent greenhouse gases that contribute to the enhanced greenhouse effect.
Solutions that are being implemented
Proposed solutions to the problem of plastic is using reusable bags, packaging, plates, bowls and cutlery! Buying consumables, clothing, essentials, anything for that matter that have minimal packaging. Using your reusable water bottles rather than buying plastic water bottles.
A solution that is mostly used today for companies that do takeaway food and drink is bio packaging. It keeps your food warm and is made from plants which “biodegrade”. But is bio packaging really an effective solution? Does this “biodegradable” packaging create more problems than it solves?
Indonesia and the production of bioplastics
Bio packaging is made using plants like, corn, cassava, sugar cane or beets which are then put through a milling process to extract the glucose (starch). The most widely used plant for bio packaging is corn.
Indonesia is used to plant the raw material such as corn used to produce the bioplastics. The big companies can easily find desperate people in need of work in developing countries and they can pay them low amounts to source the raw materials.
The soils of Indonesia are also very fertile. In Surabaya the capital of the Indonesian Jawa Timur province (East Java), a company that makes the bioplastics has paid people an inadequate amount of money to clear their land and farm corn.
Catrina Aniere is the CEO of Millennium Kids. Which is a not for profit environmental organisation run by kids. She has been to Indonesia and seen the clearing of land first-hand.
“I am really worried that in many poor communities in parts of Indonesia are growing corn in areas recently protected as forest.” Catrina said. “The land is cleared, and corn is grown in its place. Not only are the communities losing important forest and biodiversity these areas which were once protected are now adversely affected by floods which impact the area, soil is washed into rivers and crop areas become barren zones with impoverished landscapes unable to sustain new crops of corn and certainly won’t be able to be revegetated.”
Impact on the Environment
The clearing of the land by cutting down of trees has a massive impact on the environment. It greatly reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that is taken in from the atmosphere through photosynthesis by plants.
This results in more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Which leads to more heat being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere. Which has a knock-on effect on climate change.
It also causes soil degradation and erosion which occurs because there are no deep-rooted plants to keep the soil in place. When trees are removed and crops like corn are planted which are shallow root plants it means that the soil can more easily erode
There is less soil which means there is less between the surface and the water table which is salty. This will raise the pH levels of the soil and decreases its fertility.
“Poor people can only afford the land repayments if the crop is successful. With poor crop yields and erosion from flooding farmers will become indebted and be unable to repay the costs of land.” Catrina said. “The resulting treadmill of the need to buy fertiliser and biocides, and reduced production of their own food, coupled with highly volatile prices for inputs and the export crops, and inevitably declining soil fertility has been devastating for both small land holders and the environment, further entrenching the poverty.”
Deforestation also reduces the area where endangered animals on the island can live. Like the Javan Blue-banded Kingfisher which is critically endangered. There are only between 50-249 Javan Blue-banded King fisher’s left.
Is Bio Packaging Really Compostable?
There is a worrying misconception of public that bio packaging can be composted or recycled. The bio packaging can’t be composted by normal home composting. Currently a commercial composter to compost bio packaging is required.
Australia-wide there are only 9 industrial composters that can take the bio packaging from this particular company.
Some people put it in the normal bin hoping that it will be sorted and then be taken away to an industrial composting facility where it will be composted. This is not the case, as soon as you put it in the general waste bin it goes straight to landfill. It takes at least 40 years for the bio packaging to biodegrade in landfill and during the process it releases methane and carbon dioxide – so we’re back to a similar position as with normal plastic!
Some people also put the bio packaging in the recycling bin. However, Australia has no facilities to recycle the bio packaging and in fact putting bio packaging in the recycling bin could mean that recycling is “contaminated” and then all the recycling also ends up in landfill!
What Can We Do?
First and foremost, we should push for the company to get the building blocks of their bio packaging from sustainable sources and not to entice vulnerable people anywhere to clear their land. Developing countries have already cleared plenty of land to make room for crops with disastrous effects.
We should also push for the Australian Government to get recycling facilities that can recycle the bio packaging. Another idea is that there are special bins for bio packaging so it can be taken to the commercial composting facilities that can compost the bio packaging.
We should also support companies researching and developing bio packaging that is produced sustainably and is able to be composted in our normal composters that we have at home.
Catrina is “not convinced that any throw away items are a solution – the very fact that all the energy used to grow the plants, manufacture the product and them throw them away does cost us the Earth.” Catrina’s preference is to have “products that are good for people and the Earth and promote a circular economy model. I will take my own cup to the shop if I need a takeaway.”
What do you think?
Article written by Jacob.
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Mannix, L 2017, The compostable cup you can’t compost, and the trouble with our recycling system, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 13 March 2020, <https://www.smh.com.au/environment/the-compostable-cup-you-cant-compost-and-the-trouble-with-our-recycling-system-20170701-gx2kpu.html>.
Yeung, K 2018, Top 10 Indonesian Endangered Species, Indonesia Expat, viewed 13 March 2020, <https://indonesiaexpat.biz/lifestyle/top-10-indonesian-endangered-species/>.