WTF Fun Fact 13604 – Reusable Bags

When you stroll through a supermarket aisle you might ask, “How often should I reuse my reusable bags to truly make an environmental difference?” To address this, recent studies have looked into the impact of various bag materials and their sustainability.

Understanding the Bag Life Cycle

Life cycle assessments, a cornerstone in evaluating the environmental footprint of a product, break down each stage: raw material acquisition, manufacturing, transportation, and disposal. Through this, one can gauge greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy consumption, waste disposal, and other environmental impacts.

Factors that further complexify the assessment include:

  • The bag’s material: Is it from virgin resin or recycled plastic?
  • Its origin: Where was it made, and how much transportation did it require?
  • Decorations on the bag, which can magnify its environmental cost.
  • The bag’s end-of-life: Is it recycled, reused, or simply discarded?

Crunching the Numbers: How Often to Use Reusable Bags?

Drawing from a 2018 Danish study, we get some startling numbers regarding the reuse of various bag materials compared to the standard plastic bag:

  • Polypropylene bags (the common green reusable ones): 37 times.
  • Paper bags: 43 times.
  • Cotton bags: A whopping 7,100 times.

Meanwhile, a UK study focusing strictly on climate change implications found:

  • Paper bags should be reused three times.
  • Low-density polyethylene bags: Four times.
  • Non-woven polypropylene bags: 11 times.
  • Cotton bags: 131 times.

It’s essential to note that reusing plastic bags, even as bin liners, amplifies the number of times an alternative bag needs reuse.

Debunking the Organic Myth of Reusable Bags

Interestingly, the same Danish study pointed out that organic cotton bags possess a more significant environmental footprint than their non-organic counterparts, largely because of increased production costs. Sometimes, our well-intentioned assumptions about sustainability might not align with reality.

A 2014 US study discovered that bags like LDPE and polypropylene did exhibit a lower environmental toll than regular plastic bags, but only with adequate reuse. The snag? Approximately 40% of consumers forget their reusable bags, resorting to plastic ones, thereby escalating the environmental load of their shopping.

Furthermore, the quantity of bags and their volume plays a role. The Danish study ensured an even playing field by standardizing bag volumes, sometimes requiring two bags for their evaluations.

Key Takeaways for Conscious Consumers

  1. Maximize Bag Usage: Regardless of the bag’s material, using it numerous times is key.
  2. Opt for Recyclable Materials: Prioritize bags made from materials that can be recycled.
  3. Simplicity is Sustainable: Bags adorned with prints or decorations can inadvertently increase their environmental cost.
  4. Prevent Litter: Always find ways to recycle, reuse, or repurpose your bags.

In our journey towards a more sustainable future, understanding the true impact of our daily choices, like which shopping bag to use, is crucial. With informed decisions, we can each contribute to a greener planet.

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Source: “Here’s how many times you actually need to reuse your shopping bags” — The Conversation

WTF Fun Fact 13340 – T30 Building

In 2011, a Chinese construction company built a 30-story hotel in just 15 days. The T30 was constructed by Broad Sustainable Building (BSB) in the city of Hunan. BSB’s speedy construction methods may sound like a bad thing, but the T30 boasts impressive features that make it safer and more sustainable than many other buildings.

Building the T30

The T30 was constructed using prefabricated modules, which are far quicker to use than traditional construction methods.

These modules are quite energy-efficient, with features like double-glazed windows and insulation to help reduce the building’s energy consumption.

T30 operates as a hotel – and one that people seek out for its excellent air quality. The hotel’s state-of-the-art air purification system reportedly delivers air that is 20 times cleaner than the air outside. This makes it attractive for travelers with respiratory issues (and those who simply understand the role of clean air on human health!).

In addition to its energy efficiency and air purification system, the T30 was designed to be earthquake-resistant. The building can reportedly withstand earthquakes up to a magnitude of 9.

A guest from the TreeHugger website (cited below) stayed at the hotel and reported:

“Compared to normally built hotel, the T30 is using a fifth of the energy, a quarter of the water, with air that is 20 times as clean as outdoor air. You can feel it; I have been in so-called green hotels in New York with noisy through-wall heat pumps that are inefficient and loud and ruin the whole experience. This is different. The square plan of the T30 may be efficient to build, but it generally feels just a bit too tight. But again, it doesn’t feel like a place that was built in 14 days, it is solid, it is quiet, and it works.
Broad Chairman Zhang Yue’s preoccupations do not include architectural design; they are all about energy efficiency, standardization, mass production, air quality, health.”

BSB’s other construction

The T30 is one of the many impressive buildings constructed by BSB. The company also built Mini Sky City in Changsha in just 19 days. It is currently the tallest prefabricated building in the world. The Mini Sky City is 57 stories high and 204 meters tall.

BSB has also developed modular kitchens and modular bathrooms designed to be energy-efficient.

BSB’s commitment to sustainable and innovative construction has earned them awards like the Energy Globe Award. And they’ve been recognized by the United Nations for their contributions to sustainable development.

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Source: “A Closer Look at Broad’s Hotels That Were Built in Days, Not Months” — TreeHugger

WTF Fun Fact 13336 – Oceans with More Plastic Than Fish

Imagine a world where the oceans have more plastic in them than fish (by weight). Well, if you’re still around in 15 years, you might not have to imagine it.

Do our oceans have more plastic than fish?

According to the WWF (cited below):

“Whilst plastic has revolutionized our way of life since it was invented in the 1950s, the problem is that most of the plastic ever made still exists. The amount of plastic in the ocean is expected to double in the next 15 years, and by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the sea (by weight).

There are giant plastic islands floating on the ocean surface, and beaches around the world are increasingly littered with plastic rubbish even in the Arctic. It may come as a shock to know that most of the plastic in the ocean is out of sight, either underwater or on the ocean floor….90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs and half of marine turtles have eaten plastic. Sea life chokes on plastic rubbish or gets tangled in it, often causing a painful slow death. And plastic pollution is contributing to the breakdown of coral reefs.”

Wow, that’s depressing.

What’s the problem with plastics?

The problem with plastic is that it doesn’t biodegrade like other materials. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics, which stick around for centuries. Microplastics enter the food chain and accumulate in the bodies of land animals and marine life. This obviously effects humans eventually too.

Our plastics end up affecting over 700 species of marine animals, including sea turtles, dolphins, and whales. These animals can become entangled in plastic debris or mistake plastic for food, leading to starvation or blockages in their digestive systems.

Plastic disrupts the entire ecosystem. For example, plastic debris can alter the flow of water, which can affect the movement and distribution of plankton, the base of the marine food chain. This can have ripple effects throughout the ecosystem, ultimately impacting human populations that rely on the ocean for food and income.

How did we get to this point?

Plastic is cheap and convenient and people don’t like to be inconvenienced or have their minds changed. The use of plastic has become ubiquitous and we show no signs of giving it up (soggy paper straws aren’t going to solve the whole problem).

Another problem is that we don’t properly dispose of or recycle plastic. Researchers estimate that we’ve only recycled around 9% of all plastic ever produced, and we send the majority to landfills. So now it’s accumulating.

Addressing industries will be a big step. For example, the clothing manufacturing, carpet, and soft drink industries use huge amounts of plastic. Of course we can reduce our use of single-use plastics, but curtailing the use of plastics in manufacturing is going to have a much bigger effect than banishing your plastic baggies. You can help by supporting policies and regulations that promote sustainable practices and reduce plastic waste.

Another important step is to properly dispose of plastic waste can prevent it from entering the environment and ultimately ending up in our oceans. That’s another job primarily for industries, but we can do our part as individuals as well.

Want to do something immediately to support conservation efforts to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean? You can participate in beach cleanup if you live nearby a body of water. Otherwise, an email or phone call to the politicians you vote for is a good start.

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Source: “Will there be more plastic than fish in the sea?” — WWF

WTF Fun Fact 13330 – Kamikatsu Recycling

Kamikatsu recycling is intense. Citizens are expected to separate their recycling into 45 different categories! Kamikatsu is a small town located in Tokushima prefecture in Japan. It has become a paragon of innovation in waste management and, more specifically, recycling.

How did the strict Kamikatsu recycling program begin?

They began their journey to zero waste began in 2003 when the government mandated a policy to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. The town stepped up in a big way, making its unique zero-waste initiative become a model for sustainability.

Kamikatsu’s strict recycling program requires residents to sort their waste into 45 different categories. The program is designed to maximize the amount of waste that can be recycled or reused and minimize the amount of waste that goes to landfills.

Some of the categories include:

  • Paper (including newspapers, magazines, cardboard, and packaging)
  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Aluminum cans and foil
  • Steel cans
  • Plastic containers (sorted by type)
  • PET bottles (sorted by color)
  • Tetra Pak packaging (such as juice boxes)
  • Food waste (to be composted)
  • Textiles (such as clothing and fabric)
  • Appliances and electronics
  • Batteries
  • Fluorescent lights
  • Bulky waste (such as furniture and mattresses)
  • Construction waste

Residents are even required to wash their waste before placing it into the correct bins.

What are the challenges of this type of program?

The town’s recycling facility has separate areas for each category of waste, and staff members carefully sort the materials. Of course, this comes with challenges. One is the cost of transportation – the town is in a remote location.

The second challenge is one all towns and cities face – the need to change the mindset and behavior of residents. The town has implemented a variety of programs to educate residents about the importance of waste reduction and recycling, including workshops, events, and campaigns.

However, changing deeply ingrained habits and attitudes takes time and persistence. As you might imagine, the town’s strict recycling requirements have been met with mixed reactions from residents. Some find the requirements to be burdensome and time-consuming.

Nevertheless, Kamikatsu has become a model for sustainable waste management and has earned international recognition for its sustainability project.

Meeting goals

Originally, the goal was for Kamikatsu to become a zero-waste town by 2020. While the town did not exactly happen, it has made significant progress in reducing its waste output.

By 2020, over 80% of its waste was being recycled, composted, or reused. The town has also taken steps towards becoming carbon-neutral, building a solar power plant and financing a project to turn food waste into biogas.

In 2016, the town opened its Zero Waste Academy to educate visitors about its recycling program.

Kamikatsu’s journey towards zero waste and carbon neutrality is a glimpse into a sustainable future and an inspiration to individuals and communities around the world.

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Source: “‘No-waste’ Japanese village is a peek into carbon-neutral future” — The Guardian

WTF Fun Fact 12408 – Meaty Moral Questions

If you’re fully committed to eating meat regardless of what anyone tells you, you may not find this compelling. But the question of why so many of us continue to eat meat despite 1) loving animals and 2) knowing the environmental wreckage the meat industries cause to the planet is – at the very least – an interesting philosophical question. A so-called “Meat Paradox,” if you will.

Put aside your actual choice and your own defenses for a second and consider what a curious situation it really is. We’re not saying everyone should become vegetarians, but ethically speaking, it makes sense to do so if you’re an animal lover and/or concerned about the planet.

Not convinced about the planetary consequences? That’s ok; it’s rare to be taught about them, to begin with! Here’s a great set of facts from IFL Science, a website devoted to translating scientific research for the rest of us, without judgment:

“Raising livestock for meat, eggs, and milk accounts for roughly 14% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Beef production is the biggest driver of forest loss within agriculture. The meat industry has been linked to a host of other environmental harms, including water pollution.

Eating too much meat can be bad for your health too, particularly red and processed meat which is thought to increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Feeding the world’s appetite for meat costs the lives of billions of animals a year, and animal welfare is a concern on farms worldwide, with pigscows, and chickens often subject to overcrowding, open wounds, and disease.”

People get all sorts of sensitive and defensive when it comes to their life choices (which we don’t care about one way or another). So remember that this is purely an ethical inquiry: If we love animals and care about the planet, how do so many of us eat meat without guilt?

The answer? Well, some of us do feel guilty or queasy about it, but it’s so ingrained in our culture that meat-eating is unproblematic that we just go for it. But for others, it requires a little trick of the brain that we don’t even realize is going on. It’s called “moral disengagement,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. We have to disengage from thinking about the moral implications of what we’re doing. And we do it in many ways, including:

  1. Telling ourselves we’re just one person/family and our own meat consumption doesn’t affect much.
  2. Trying to remove animals from the equation and eating meat that doesn’t look much like a formerly breathing thing – like chicken nuggets or burgers.
  3. Avoiding cooking our own meat so we don’t have to deal with the “raw materials.”
  4. Not referring to certain meats as animals. For example, calling cow meat “beef.” (This doesn’t really work for the winged animal world though.)
  5. Convincing ourselves (or letting others convince us) that eating meat is necessary for health. (And while we can’t speak to others’ medical conditions, there’s no condition that requires as much meat as most of us eat.)

We’re sure you can think of others. And, you never know, maybe you’ll learn something interesting about yourself if you stop and think about how you eat meat without picturing the animals they once were.

Self-inquiry is a bit of a lost art, but no one said you had to tell anyone the answers in your brain. Just use them to learn about yourself! It’s kind of cool to assess how our brains work. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “The Meat Paradox: How Your Brain Wrestles With The Ethics Of Eating Animals” — IFL Science