A Solution To The Blue Wrap Waste Problem

Key Takeaways:

  • Once blue wrap has been used in hospitals for sterilization, it is usually landfilled despite being a clean and useful fabric
  • Blue wrap is a plastic fabric that is exactly the same as the material used for reusable shopping bags
  • Billions of reusable shopping bags made from extracted resources are shipped across the world and imported to the U.S.
  • We could be creating jobs, decreasing our waste, and fighting climate change by making bags domestically out of this blue wrap waste product instead of importing.
  • The Recycling industry is being strained by extraction of cheap natural gas in the U.S. and China no longer accepting recyclables, this is increasing the need for repurposing.

In the United States we dispose of 200 million lbs of plastic #5 that is perfectly clean and reusable, while simultaneously importing around 100 million lbs of the same exact material, mostly from East Asia.

Essentially, 100 millions lbs of plastic is being thrown away for no reason, despite Earth being in the middle of the greatest environmental crisis known to man (climate change.)

In a capitalistic society governed by climate deniers, the onus falls upon both the consumer and the free market to solve this disconnect.

The stubbornly ironic part is that part of the problem is caused by people making what has been accepted as “sustainable choices”. Bear with me, I’ll explain…

If you’re at this blog I am assuming you know what blue wrap is, and have had an ongoing struggle (or journey) deciding how best deal with this “low-hanging fruit”.

But there are lots of reasons why blue wrap ends up in the trash… or maybe even the RMW stream, increasing waste disposal costs and environmental strain (often due to incineration of RMW).

  • Maybe there isn’t room at your hospital to store blue wrap and you don’t have access to a baler…
  • Maybe your hospital has a contract with a certain waste hauler who won’t recycle blue wrap due to its volume to weight and difficulty to recycle…
  • Maybe you’re having trouble getting your OR staff to properly segregate blue wrap…

Well some of these problems are only going to get worse as the price of natural gas continues to plummet due to the increase in fracking and other methods of petro-extraction in the US.

Graph: Price of a Barrel of Oil in USDGraph of price of oil

In fact, the amount of oil produced in the US has almost doubled in recent years.

Some may consider this a good thing but the truth of the matter is that low oil prices interfere with what recyclers are paid for plastics, making it harder for recyclers to recycle and causing a reduction in plastic recycling overall.

It gets worse…

China has recently decided to stop accepting our recyclable wastes. The U.S. Has been exporting roughly one third of it’s recycling, with about half going to china. However, that will end starting on Jan. 1st of 2018. This has created chaos in the recycling industry and recyclers are scrambling to address the issue, while plastics are just going into the trash.

However, there is a solution because there is a process that is even better for the world than merely recycling. This process is called repurposing, also known as upcycling. When Upcycled, blue wrap is not turned into recycled plastic resin, and doesn’t have to compete with the unobtainable price points derailing recyclers.

Blue wrap is essentially a nonwoven polypropylene plastic fabric, and around 80% of it can be collected so that it is perfectly clean and able to be repurposed or upcycled.

Ok, so blue wrap can be upcycled, but what could we possibly upcycle hundreds of millions of pounds of nonwoven polypropylene (NWPP) into?

The answer is reusable shopping bags and tote bags! This seems a little far-fetched right?

The answer is… maybe not.

Here are the results of a U.S. International Trade Commission search query regarding the amount of reusable tote bags imported into the US since 1999.

Screen Shot 2017-07-07 at 1.06.00 PM

You can see in the search results that the United States imported over 600 million reusable tote bags in 2015. Despite the slightly misleading title in the search results, reusable shopping totes are categorized under Harmonized Tariff Code (HTC) 4202923031.

Reusable shopping bag Hell

Here is a little bit of the environmental impact of the reusable shopping bag craze… A couple metrics on the environmental cost of these reusable tote bags for just the year 2015:

  • 396 million kWh of electricity used in the manufacturing of those totes.
  • 296 million lbs of CO2e- created and released into atmosphere

–Check out this infographic on why your choice of reusable bag matters–

Then there is the staggering statistic that over 6.25 Biliion reusable tote bags have been imported since 1999. Divide that by the population of the U.S. (326,814,051 at time of writing), and that means there are almost 20 reusable tote bags for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. assuming they are still around and being re-used.

I think this makes it pretty apparent that reusable shopping bags are just acting as a more resource-intensive disposable bag, completely eroding the intention behind the movement…

Here is a brief overview of the supply of blue wrap and the demand for Nonwoven PP shopping bags:

Blue Wrap Consumption Chart

Yes that’s right… If we managed to only upcycle half of the amount of blue wrap thrown away each year we could make a huge difference.

If instead, we chose to take the material for those tote bags out of our waste by upcycling blue wrap instead of importing NWPP, in 2015 we would have:

  • Prevented 150 million lbs of blue wrap from being disposed of (typically landfilled).
  • Saved 396 million kWh of electricity used in the manufacturing of those totes.
  • Prevented 296 million lbs of CO2e from entering atmosphere.

Wooden table with autumn leaves backgroundCircular Blu is dedicated to creating circular economic products that are socially and environmentally responsible. It just makes sense to use PCR blue wrap to create tote bags. It is for this reason that we call them The World’s Most Sustainable Tote Bag.  Are you willing to take sustainability seriously and cut through the greenwashing?

I certainly am.

Why You Should Invest In The Circular Economy

 

Entrepreneurs need help financially in order to turn their ideas into profitable enterprises. Investors need bright young minds to turn their capital into… more capital. The circular economy is going to provide an incredible potential for business growth, but it can’t happen without investors.

The circular economy (CE) is a framework for decoupling economic growth from resource consumption. In a world of increasing population and finite resources, such a model is becoming necessary for sustainable economic growth. That is why the concept presents a major opportunity for business growth, one that is already being described as a multi-trillion dollar opportunity.

There are many explanations as to why the circular economy is going to be necessary, but in keeping with Occam’s Razor, let’s just quickly describe it’s necessity using two variables: population and resources.

World population has already exceeded 7.5 Billion people, and is projected to reach 10 Billion in the 2050’s. There is a concept known as Carrying Capacity, which is a theoretical estimate that quantifies the amount of humans our planet’s resources can support. The median figure among the skew of models estimating between 4 and 16 Billion is 10 Billion. That means it is likely that our planet can only support 10 Billion people.

One of the principles of a successful circular economic model is the idea of providing goods as a service instead of a simply an object to be discarded by the consumer when obsolete. For example, instead of creating objects that contain any degree of planned obsolescence to ensure future profits, companies can offer use of their equipment as a service, ensuring infinite revenue. This might seem like a blow to the consumer, but it could potentially make life easier by eliminating the unforeseen costs of equipment malfunctions and degradation.

Phillips is currently offering lighting as a service to an airport in Amsterdam instead of selling them lightbulbs. This will provide an incentive for the company to create products that will last forever, instead of products that will only last a couple years (by design) so they can sell that product again later. Such a simple idea could eliminate the throw-away culture we live in.

So let’s take the simple economics Law of Supply and Demand and bring it into the equation. As the population grows, the total supply of resources becomes spread more thinly over a greater amount of people, thereby increasing demand. As resources are used in a linear economic model, they become no longer available once consumed, further increasing demand. This means that circular economic companies that hold onto their resources by providing goods as a service instead of selling the actual product, will benefit from that increased demand and become more valuable. Those companies will pick up their obsolete and used-up products from consumers and keep those resources in their circular material flow to be used over and over. Meanwhile, companies in linear models will run out of resources to build from and deteriorate.

If the majority of companies continue using the linear economic model, when coupled with population growth, this will eventually create resource scarcity. Business models that depend upon those resources and fail to adapt to the changing resource climate will simply cease to be. However, circular economic companies will be able to avoid this by building up the amount of resources in their resource pool that they maintain indefinitely. Resource scarcity will very likely cause unprecedented civil unrest, upheaval and war if a systemic change does not occur soon.

Circular economic business models will, if successful, keep resources in a circular flow that would theoretically last forever. As the concept of the circular economy becomes more widely understood, consumers are going to want to choose these businesses over those that are linear. These businesses will also have a sustainable model that won’t break when other linear models are shut down from scarcity. Supporting these business models will also help to prevent resource scarcity.

Several massive worldwide companies are jumping on the bandwagon with this idea, as they see the writing on the wall. According to a 2016 Greenbiz/UPS Research Study, nearly nine out of 10 of sustainability executives surveyed believe that the circular economy would be important to their business two years from now.

Here is a quick list of some of the leaders in the movement that have spent considerable resources conducting circular economy studies of their own: Each of the links will send you to a Study conducted on behalf of these companies:

UPS

Google

Unilever

Also check out this Greenbiz list of 8 companies to watch for in the Circular Economy

I would never tell you which companies to invest your hard earned money in, but I would warn you to keep an eye on whether or not your investments are leaning towards adapting to the economy of the future. Whether or not the company you are evaluating for investment is implementing circular economy principles will one day become a standard litmus test for long term investment.

There are agencies sprouting up all over Europe that are dedicated solely to exploring investment opportunities created by early adopters of circular economics. Circularity Capital is an organization that does just that, started by former Chief Executive of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Jamie Butterworth.

Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis circular economic investing opportunities.