us and the environment

 
We believe that our products are very helpful to people wishing to protect their urban environment.  However we are very mindful that, with these products, we are creating yet more plastic which will eventually end up in a landfill.
 
In order to reduce our carbon footprint to the minimum we have adopted the following practices:
  
We have endeavoured to reduce the packaging on our ezeleash, and its accessories, to the minimum.  All packaging can be separated and recycled.
 
When purchasing via our website, to those who would like, we offer ezeleash delivered without packaging.  This option, as well as helping to save the planet, will save the purchaser $5.00.  (in case you are wondering, the packaging costs us about $1.00 to produce).
 
We recycle our packaging, and even collect and use cardboard boxes from other companies that would otherwise have been sent to the landfill. 
 
 
 
 
There has been a lot of talk recently about plastic bags, however, with very few people willing to defend their use, the dialogue has been somewhat one-sided. Here's how we see it:
 
Misconceptions about plastic bags

Every human alive has an effect on our planet, and we each have a responsibility to keep our individual environmental footprint as small as possible. This is made more difficult when we do not have access to accurate information about how to do this.

Special interest groups within the environmental movement have chosen plastic bags as a rallying point, but in doing so, have taken the focus away from some very simple, unglamorous, and yet, very important thing that we could be doing to help save our planet from the real and existential threat of GLOBAL WARMING.

There are many half-truths, dubious statistics, and flat out lies found circulating on the internet about single use plastic bags.  We believe this is mostly due to the Google effect, whereby popular and sensational stories are given a wider circulation than more factual, if less exciting items, especially those that do not fit with the trending narrative. Here is a little more information relating to some of the common criticisms of plastic bags.

Plastic bags are made of toxic chemicals.

Some plastics are toxic.

Single use plastic bags are made of HDPE (high density polyethylene). HDPE is a very pure compound made up of just carbon and hydrogen. It is not toxic. Its basic building block is ethylene (this occurs naturally in plants). To produce HDPE, ethylene is formed into long chains, which are very stable. HDPE can be burned. This produces carbon dioxide and water.

But plastic bags don't degrade

Thin film HDPE is an engineering miracle.  With a wall thickness of less than the width of a human hair, an HDPE bag can easily hold one and a half thousand times its own weight.  Pound for pound this makes them an incredibly efficient product.  The long carbon chains in HDPE not only make it very strong for its weight, they also make it hard to break down. Having said this, there are bacteria in the environment that can metabolise it. It is not dissimilar in its chemical composition to bees wax. Wax moth larvae will eat HDPE and the bacteria in their gut can turn it into food. Modern production of HDPE uses additives that form weak points in the carbon chains, that react with sunlight to break the chains down into much shorter lengths.  So, above ground (in the presence of UV light), it begins to degrade quite rapidly.  This is helped by the fact it is a thin film (around 13 microns in thickness).  The smaller the pieces become, the easier it is for microbes to digest them.  Degrading HDPE is not toxic to animals.  It can't get into our food chain, because if ingested by an animal, they can't pass from the animal's gut to its tissue.  When degradation is complete (called mineralisation), the two chemicals you end up with are CO2 and water.

But huge numbers of plastic bags end up in the environment and cause pollution

Many countries, especially in third world, have poor or non-existent waste management systems. New Zealand is a first world country and does a very good job of ensuring the vast majority of our domestic waste ends up in landfills. HDPE bags, being incredibly light, can be picked up and blow around, and even when a tiny percentage of them end up where they shouldn't, being highly visible, and given their constant negative publicity, they tend to become the thing at the top of mind when we think of environmental pollutants. This is a long way from the truth.  Although it can create minor visual pollution, HDPE is not toxic like heavy metals, pesticides and the myriad of dangerous chemicals produced by humanity.

But plastic bags kill marine animals

If you Google search pictures of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch you will find a striking absence of plastic bags. What you will find are a lot of bottles, and bottle caps. All the studies we have read regarding deaths of marine animals by the ingestion of plastic, blame hard plastics. Plastic bags degrade reasonably quickly in the ocean because HDPE has a specific gravity is around 0.95, so it floats on or near the surface where it is exposed to sunlight (see above). 

Plastic bags are not known to kill marine animals by entanglement. Here is a quote attributed to David Santillo, a senior biologist with Greenpeace, to The Times of London, "It's very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags. The evidence shows just the opposite. We are not going to solve the problem of waste by focusing on plastic bags. With larger mammals it's fishing gear that's the big problem. On a global basis plastic bags aren't an issue."

There is documented evidence that pieces of soft plastic have been ingested by sea turtles.  Their known preference is for rubber balloons and clear/translucent plastics such as cling wrap.  Studies of our coastline have determined that the known death rate of sea turtles in New Zealand by ingestion of plastic, is two animals per year. However, the information available does not, unfortunately, specify whether these deaths are due to hard or soft plastic.

If even one sea turtle was killed by ingesting a plastic bag it would be tragic.  However, the threat of extinction seems much more likely from other causes.  The fishing industry kills hundreds of thousands of turtles annually in gill nets and on long lines.  People still hunt them for their meat, eggs and shell (for jewelry).  Human population growth is encroaching on their breeding grounds, and global sea level rise is eroding their nesting beaches.  (Interestingly, unlike most vertebrates, sea turtles do not have sex chromosomes. The sex of their young is determined by the temperature of the sand in which they lay their eggs. A few degrees temperature rise could mean no males are born to continue the species.  So a pressing issue in their preservation is control of Global Warming).

But single use plastic bags are still a massive environmental problem. We use a billion a year.

Recent landfill statistics give us a very accurate picture of what we are consuming by measuring what we are throwing away. So what percentage of landfill is taken up with plastic bags? Plastic waste, incorporating both hard and soft plastics, account for 12.1% of landfill. Plastic bags, however, are just a small fraction of this total. There is an often quoted figure of one billion bags used by Kiwis every year. This may be a little on the high side, but if we use this figure, we can determine the percentage of landfill taken up with single use plastic bags. The average supermarket bag weighs around 5.5 grams (we will call it 6 grams). 1,000,000,000 x 6 grams =  6,000,000,000 grams = 6,000,000 kg = 6,000 tons. Six thousand tons of plastic sounds like a huge quantity but, to our shame, we currently send to landfill around 3,000,000 tons of waste annually so, as a percentage, single use plastic bags make up approximately 0.2% of this total. Less than one quarter of one percent.

But when you put plastic in a land fill it takes a thousand years to break down.

Below ground, deprived of oxygen, HDPE is inert.  Similarly, if you send concrete to the landfill, it could well remain there unchanged for a billion years. Why is a different standard placed on an inert substance like HDPE? In truth, if you put something in a landfill, you want it to remain there, inert and unchanging. And burying things is not a new practice for humans. If you dig down in the centre of London, you will find evidence of Roman habitation 40 feet below ground. Everything above that was deposited by humans. And if you want to use the argument that HDPE is worse because it is a man-made substance, so is concrete; used by the Romans (though invented much earlier than that  *  ).

But plastics are a petroleum product so they contribute to Global Warming.

Modern landfills do have a problem. A massive problem. They produce greenhouse gas. Lots of it. Globally landfills are responsible for around 11% of all man made methane emissions. And methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. Its warming potential is around 25 times that of CO2. Methane is caused by the anaerobic (without oxygen) breakdown of biological materials in landfill waste. Biological material consists of things like wood, paper, garden waste and food scraps. It constitutes a staggering 64% of our domestic waste. It is this biodegradable material that is causing the problem, not the inert waste. And if the food scraps you scrape into your rubbish bin produce 4kg of CO2 above ground, in the landfill, the methane produced has an equivalent warming potential of 100kg of CO2.

Ironically, HDPE bags can prevent the production of greenhouse gases in landfills by preventing water (essential for anaerobic degradation) from getting to the biological material. So biodegradable material, secured tightly in a plastic bag can not only be prevented from turning into methane, its carbon content can be trapped in the landfill forever, taking it out of the carbon cycle. This is known as carbon sequestration. And we are going to have to be doing a lot of in the next 50 years. Because there is already too much carbon in the atmosphere, and we need to reduce it. And the plastic bag that came from crude oil pumped up from underground, is returned underground, and takes with it, yet more carbon. (that's if you decide you don't want to recycle it)

But you can't recycle soft plastics.

Actually, you can. The problem is that it currently takes a little more effort than recycling your hard plastic, because you have to take it back to the supermarket where you bought it. And if you do collect all your soft plastics (from frozen pea packets to biscuit wrappers, and everything in between), you will notice that the plastic bag you put them in accounts for a tiny fraction of the total volume of the soft plastics you have collected. And you will find you have collected a lot of soft plastic.

 

Wait, I am so confused. So what can I do to help save the planet?

A few simple things. Here are 4 you could start with:

Stop buying things you don't need. (Clothes, as an example - textiles make up around 4% of landfill waste).

Stop buying bottled water, or anything else that comes in a single use plastic bottle.

Most importantly, buy a green waste bin and use it for everything compostable that leaves your home.

If you don't live in an area where council offer a green waste collection service, find a private one. Not only will you be reducing your harmful greenhouse gas emissions, you will be helping to more than double the useful life of you local landfill. By the way, the reason it is not possible to build houses on a landfill immediately after decommissioning it, is less about what it seeping out of the bottom of it than what is seeping out of the top. Methane continues to gas-off for decades.

Separate your soft plastics and take them back to the supermarket (you go there every week anyway).

Put them all in a jute bag if it makes you feel better. Maybe it will remind you to take the jute bag with you next time, so you don't have to buy another jute bag, which will end up in the kitchen drawer with all your other jute bags. By the way, even jute bags have an environmental footprint, both in their production and disposal. And they cannot be recycled.  And, without wishing to sound alarmist, you might be interested to do some further reading on a scientific study undertaken in San Francisco after their ban on single use plastic bags, which postulated that an average annual increase in deaths by bacterial infection of 5.5 people per year was attributable to the increased use of reusable grocery bags. (Another study found out why they might be a problem - ninety percent of them never get washed.)

Better still, use an HDPE bag. Then use it again. And again (except the one you used to carry raw chicken). You can probably easily get 10 trips to the supermarket out of it, provided you don't buy a lot of fresh pineapple.

And when it is past its useful life, either recycle it or give it a decent burial. For example, if you have to put biodegradable material in the rubbish (meat scraps for example) then ensure you wrap them tightly in an HDPE bag. And remember to tie a knot in the end off the bag.

Then …

Spread the word to your friends and family. Tell them what you are doing and why, and remind them that you are doing it for their children and grandchildren.

But I would like to do more.

Great. Start a community group. Or easier still, re-purpose the one you already have.  Once it has completed its good work of banning "single use" plastic bags, it can adopt a new agenda.   Push for your local council to supply optional green waste bins to all households. If you want to get militant, insist that these green waste bins be compulsory for every household. Once you have achieved that, think nationally. Start writing letters to your local MP. Get the rest of your group to do the same. Together, with small steps, we can make a huge difference.

Why is there so much misinformation on the internet? How can I get the truth?

Arm yourself with a little knowledge. Saving the planet is not rocket science, but it is science.

Google searches rank by popularity, not plausibility. Think about the wording of our search choices. If you type in “911 was a conspiracy”, then conspiracy is what you will get. Check every source. Verify facts. On matters of science, look for well known organisations, who publish peer reviewed studies. And please think before you “like” or “share”. The uncritical repetition of improbable facts makes us all more ignorant. The current plastic bag frenzy is a good example.

Ask, does this group have an agenda? For example, the information you are currently reading comes from a site that sells plastic bags. Why should you trust what is said here?**  Companies wanting to sell you stuff, and even some “environmentalists“ pushing a particular agenda, can bend the truth. And it is possible to lie by omission. Retailers who tout cornstarch or paper waste bags as an alternative to HDPE, tell you they are better for the environment. However, they neglect to mention that, unless you compost these bags yourself, they will almost certainly end up in a landfill, where they will produce methane.

** An explanation as to why you might be able to trust what is being said here (though we strongly recommend you conduct your own independent research). We sell HDPE dog waste bags, so until the general public can be convinced to pick up dog poo with their bare hands, we think we are safe from the hysteria. However, if all single use plastic supermarket bags were banned or taxed, we would stand to gain financially, because a lot of people currently reuse their supermarket bags to pick up poo. So why are we defending supermarket bags? Because fixing problems requires us to base our reasoning on facts. The campaign to ban these bags is illogical and will create more problems than it solves ***.

And it is sucking valuable oxygen away from what we should be should be concentrating on.

We need to fix our attention squarely on global temperature rise. This is the thing melting the polar ice caps, that will flood heavily populated low lying areas of the planet, causing refugee crises, famine and war; the thing that will cause the extermination of species by the hundreds of thousands. A global temperature rise of just a few degrees.

If we can convince every consumer of the planet's resources to start doing these small, unglamorous things, together we can achieve something huge. But if we expect New Zealand to become carbon neutral, every New Zealand household must be working towards that same goal.


*** One of the problems with changing the equilibrium of any environment, is the law of unintended consequences.  As an example, it was once considered a brilliant idea to introduce the Australian Possum to New Zealand so that it could employ people in the fur trade.  The result has been the devastation of our native flora and fauna.

Consequences can be equally catastrophic when you ban something.  The example in San Francisco of an increase in death rates from bacterial infections coinciding with the banning of plastic bags, if connected, would be a tragic illustration of this.

But even the more mundane consequences of banning plastic bag are not talked about.  People must have an alternative, and every alternative has an environmental cost.  A non woven multi-use polypropylene bag weighs 80 grams, an HDPE bag weighs 6 grams.  So, if you can get 10 trips from an HDPE bag, you need to get well over 100 trips from a polyprop bag.  So if you don't get more than 2 years out of your polyprop bag (assuming approximately one supermarket trip a week), then from an environmental standpoint, you are no better off than if you had been using HDPE bags.  But in the meantime, people would still be buying bags for bin liners, dog poo pick up, and everything else that they currently re-purpose their HDPE bags for.  So the net result could well be more plastic, not less.

 

And if you have ever thrown away a multi-use bag because you somehow ended up with too many, rest assured that you are almost certainly not alone.  And if it is just now dawning on you that it was made of jute, and you put it in your rubbish bin, so it went to the landfill, where it decomposed anaerobically, which produced methane with a global warming potential of 25 jute bags, then please congratulate yourself, you have obviously been paying attention.