Care For Our Planet
Paper, in it’s natural state is beige or light brown. For years people have subjected it to a bleaching process to create the white sheets we all know and love. Unfortunately, cleaning the paper is having the opposite effect on the environment.
The Issues that need consideration
The most common bleaching agent – chlorine dioxide (ClO2) – occurs naturally as a component of salt, but once it separates from its natural pair it begins to be problematic. The paper bleaching process can deposit chlorine in the lakes and streams where mills are located, and once there, in the form of dioxins, it bonds with organic matter and that’s when the problems really begin.
Where do dioxins come from?
The main sources of dioxins in the environment come from:
Industrial activities, though the production of some chlorinated organic compounds (such as herbicides and pesticides)
Burning – though incineration of waste materials (commercial or municipal sources) or through the production of dioxin in inefficient burning of organic fuels such as wood, coal or oil. This includes dioxin that can come from forest fires.
Bleaching, through using chlorine to bleach pulp and paper
Smoking; Cigarette smoke contains small amount of dioxins.
Even though dioxins can appear in the environment from natural causes such as forest fires, the main source is industrial pollution. We feel it is our responsibility to ensure we don’t add to the problem through inaction and not taking responsibility to prevent dioxins either being released or at risk of being released. We don’t need bleached paper in order to have a properly functioning range of paper products and so we have taken the view that we want to remove them from the processes that we use in making If You Care products.
What is the problem with dioxins?
The problem with dioxins is three fold.
They are toxic to biological life and easily soluble in water where they can move though the environment with relative ease;
They do not decompose easily and so they stay in the environment for a very long time* (*The half life of dioxins in the body is estimated to be between 3 to 50 years depending on the specific dioxin. This means it takes 3 to 50 years for half of the dioxins you may ingest to disappear in your body.)
And finally, they accumulate both in the environment and in the food chain.
These three characters of dioxins make them a real problem for wildlife and for human beings. It is true to say that all of us are exposed to and accumulate dioxins throughout our lives.
What are the effects of accumulating dioxins?
Dioxins are thought to pose negative effects on reproductive and immune system development, and there is an increasingly large body of work, that supports the argument that dioxins may contribute to the cause of several kinds of cancers such as Hodgkin’s Lymphona. Recent studies suggest that dioxins are also an “endocrine disrupter” – one of a number of toxic chemicals that interfere with our hormone systems by mimicking natural hormones and blocking or disrupting their normal action.
Dioxins can appear in our drinking water, where they can accumulate from air emission, deposition from soils to water and discharges from chemical factories.
Dioxins, once ingested, tend to accumulate in the fat reserves of the organisms that eat them and this is how they accumulate through the food chain.
What can I / We, do?
It is easy to become alarmed about such negative information and many people react by ignoring the problem, rejecting the facts, minimising the dangers or assuming that there is nothing to be done about it. Alternatively, individuals can become overly anxious and feel helpless in the face of the problem. It can be overwhelming, but you can make a difference.
By explaining the issues, we hope that this helps in your understanding of them and more importantly, what steps we have taken to address them as far as our sphere of influence extends. We look at the whole lifecycle of our products, from start to finish with a view that process operates in a virtuous circle that is sustainable from generation to generation.
We know that using chlorine in the bleaching process leads to the release of dioxins in the environment. This release, whether through part of the manufacturing process, through insufficient controls or through accidental spills is something we can do something about. So we produce our products without the use of chlorine.
What you can do is make small everyday choices and look for products and manufacturers like If You Care that have removed chlorine from their production processes. Such small cumulative steps, collectively, make a big difference and have a wider impact. The sum is greater than the whole as small changes to buying behaviour affect the way other businesses operate.
If you want to know more about Dioxins and the topics we have discussed here, there are numerous on line sources of information. It is important to read widely to get a good understanding of the complex issues that surround this topic.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
The most widely known publication that discusses the harmful impact that dioxins, synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides have on our environment, is a book by an American marine biologist and environmentalist, Rachel Carson (b.1907, d 1964), called “Silent Spring” (ISBN: 9780141184944). The book highlighted the adverse impact that various pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and dioxins had on wildlife populations. Rachel Carson is credited with properly highlighting and raising the issue of these “biocides” and being a major contributor to the global environmental movement.
If you want a more technical start to this topic, there are numerous scientific studies, sources and publications that cover it. Here are a few to get you started:
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences – Dioxins
An introduction from a US government agency on Dioxins with further reading and links
The human health effects of ddt (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and pcbs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and an overview of organochlorines in public health
Matthew P. Longnecker1, Walter J. Rogan2, and George Lucier3
1Epidemiology Branch, 2Office of Clinical Research, 3Environmental Toxicology Program, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709;
KEY WORDS: DDT, DDE, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin, adverse effects
If You Care Recycled Aluminium Foil
When it comes to choosing materials to make products that we can use, re-use, and recycle, aluminium is a pretty useful and versatile product, but as with all materials, the actions of humans on the planet and cumulative acts of consumption, there are complicated issues that surround its production and use. Here, we hope to shed light on these issues and then explain our approach in dealing with them.
Firstly, aluminium is the most abundant metallic element we have on earth (it makes up around 8% of the weight of the earth’s crust) and it is the third most abundant element on earth by mass (after oxygen and silicon) as a whole. So, there is plenty to go around! It is made from processing bauxite, an aluminium rich ore which is abundant in several countries across the globe.
Aluminium is very recyclable. It is estimated that 75% of all the aluminium that has ever been produced is still in circulation on the planet today. That makes it one of the most recycled and reusable materials we have to hand.
It is light, versatile and strong. Because it is light and strong, it is easy and efficient to move around. It is also a very versatile metal with a tremendous range of properties that allow it to be used to make anything from food packaging to window frames, engine blocks, building materials, bicycle frames, cooking utensils etc, etc. The list is exhaustive!
The issues that need consideration
There are a few things relating to aluminium though that we need to address to make sure we are minimising the impact of production.
Making aluminium from its raw form is a two step process with some issues we need to be aware of on the way.
Extracting and refining the ore – the issues
Extracting bauxite to produce new aluminium, is a destructive process involving mining. For every kilo of metallic aluminium produced, 4 kilos of bauxite ore has to be extracted.
Some mining methods and companies do not operate best policies and are often in conflict with best practice or local communities.
Some mining companies do operate restitution programs that rejuvenate old workings, but the issues of extraction are very disruptive in the short to medium term for natural habitats.
The ore has to be crushed and refined in order to produce a pure Aluminium Oxide (Al2O3) and this uses a lot of energy to physically process the ore and in the second stage, a number of chemicals that are both energy intensive to produce and potentially harmful to the environment.
Making aluminium hydroxide from bauxite powder requires small amounts of water to remove silica and other impurities from the ore. So, there is a requirement for water in the production and that is a commodity that is pretty scarce in some of the producing countries (e.g Australia). The options are to ship the ore elsewhere if water as a resource is not available.
Processing the bauxite ore and producing Aluminium Oxide (Alumina) results in a bauxite sludge called “Red Mud”, which is very caustic (alkaline) with a very high Ph and can contain some pretty harmful concentrations of heavy metals. The mud is often settled in pools near the refinery but if poorly maintained can cause a lot of problems and has the potential of polluting ground water.
There is some work underway to try and find a way of using red mud as a useful raw material in the building industry, but that is still underway.
In general, most mines then transport either bauxite or Aluminium hydroxide to a refinery or smelting works that is often a long way from the mineral source where the aluminium is extracted. This adds additional transport costs and associated environmental costs.
Electrolytic Reduction to produce ingots – the issues.
Extracting aluminium from alumina is where most of the environmental cost of aluminium is recorded in terms of emissions. That’s right, it is at this point, getting to a shiny block of aluminium is where it starts to get really intense.
Aluminium smelting from alumina accounts for around 1% of total global greenhouse emissions. Extracting aluminium from its “salt” form (Aluminium Hydroxide, or “Alumina”) takes HUGE amounts of electricity and this is why aluminium smelting plants are based near sources of cheap electricity. The current global average is 15Kilo Watt Hours to produce 1 kilo of aluminium. Old smelters tend to be located near old inefficient power stations powered by fossil fuels, but newer smelters are located next to more efficient sources such as hydro-electric or geothermal power plants.
The smelters dissolve the alumina in a batch of chemicals which is then heated to a very high temperature and a strong electric current is passed through the mix (between an electric anode and cathode). The electric current breaks the bonds through the mix and some of the processes also release harmful emissions, so we are going to take a look at these.
Some very harmful greenhouse gasses can be released during the smelting process.
What Can I / We do?
Producing aluminium from its ore is undeniably energy intensive with some sobering adverse effects on the environment.
At this point, you may be wondering what on earth to do and if we should be using aluminium at all. Each of us has a responsibility to account for our choices but now you know some of the major issues around aluminium, you can make informed decisions about your own behaviour and how to minimise the impact on the environment from your decisions. We are going to list a few of the things you might like to consider in using aluminium.
Reduce your consumption
Before you break out the foil, ask yourself if you need to use it? For example: Parchment paper can replace many of the things you might use aluminium for:
Making a “tent” to cook foods in the oven
Parchment paper can do this job and we also have a range of paper roasting bags that produce fantastic roasts, every time. See our section on cooking “en papillote” for some great roasting ideas.
Choose recycled aluminium foil every time. Energy Savings of 95%
There is no doubt recycled aluminium goes a long way in reducing the demand on virgin aluminium production. Aluminium can be recycled endlessly and even today, with so much more to do to improve recycling systems, it is estimated 75% of all aluminium produced is still in use and in circulation today.
Once we have aluminium as a material and have passed the first hurdle of production, it is remarkable to note that it takes only 5% of the energy to produce recycled aluminium foil compared with regular aluminium foil made from the ore. The energy equivalent of 1 gallon of fuel produces 2.78 lbs virgin aluminium, while only 0.05 gallons is required to produce 2.78 lbs recycled aluminium. Expressed in terms of rolls of aluminium foil, 1.39 cups of fuel produces one roll of traditional foil, while only 0.07 cups is used for each If You Care roll.
Reducing environmental costs
And these energy savings don’t even take into account the financial and environmental benefits of lower transportation weights and fuel costs. The primary component of aluminium is bauxite, typically mined in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Which means in addition to the tremendous energy expenditures and environmental costs in the mining of the mineral, there are very significant added transportation and fuel costs in moving it around the globe. Most of these energy costs are saved in the recycling process, so If You Care Recycled Aluminium foil uses even less than 5% that of regular aluminium foil.
Re-use your aluminium foil
If you think about your consumption, you can reduce your use of the product. Aluminium is often used as a wrap or covering and then thrown away. If you can, store your aluminium to re-use it another day. It will save you money and reduce demand for aluminium.
Recycling to minimise impact
Aluminium can be recycled indefinitely. It can be melted down, and Recycling 1kg aluminium can save up to:
4kg chemical products
14,000 watts of electricity
Making these small decisions will not only help save you money but help reduce the impact of our activity on the environment.
Recycled Aluminium Energy savings
Others have taken note of our claims as well. Consumer Reports’ investigation of the energy claim on If You Care Recycled Aluminium Foil packaging was published in September 2007, with the quote: “The maker of If You Care 100% Recycled Aluminium Foil claims to use 5% of the energy needed to make regular foil, AND RESEARCH BEARS THAT OUT.”
Aluminium producers promise a cleaner smelting pot
Environmental Guidelines for Aluminium Manufacturing.
For all our paper products and our packaging, we use Forestry Stewardship Certified (FSC) raw materials, card and paper.
We recognise that producing any agricultural or plant based raw material has an immediate impact on land use and therefore there is a need to carefully manage that land use and to minimise the impact we have on securing raw materials to make the products that we use.
The issues that need consideration
In producing wood as a raw material for things like paper production, timber for construction, making laminates and veneers, there are a number of things that we should be aware of and concern ourselves with.
Over exploitation of natural resources
Wood is a valuable renewable resource, but unless managed properly can result in the destruction of forest either through illegal logging or legally permitted logging without consideration for broader issues.
Conflict with local populations
In some countries, forests are seen as a natural, renewable resource for indigenous populations and logging can bring populations in to conflict with each other. It is not unknown for illegal logging to result in intimidation of local populations and has even been linked to the murder of individuals campaigning for the rights of indigenous people.
The problem of conflict is not restricted to forests in far off corners of the world, but also in developed countries, where the protection of rare and disappearing ancient woodland, or disputes over land use can also bring communities in to conflict with each other.
Impact on wildlife and environment
Both illegal and organised logging operations bring about habitat destruction and where it is not managed properly this can have irreversible consequences that relate to biodiversity loss and extinction of species. Planting of managed forests can also be ill advised without care and management, as popular fast growing wood species are not necessarily suited to the needs of local wildlife populations. Poorly planted Woodlands can be environmental and biodiversity disasters, changing the ph of soil and pushing wildlife out of an area.
The commercial exploitation of forest can result in a practice known as clear felling where an area is completely cleared of trees. Not only does this disrupt the ecosystem, but it can result in severe soil erosion. Loss of fertile soils is a serious global issue. Soils can take thousnads of years to
Mature forests are tremendous carbon sinks and help lock up carbon in the leaves, trunks and accumulating forest litter all of which is an ecosystem of its own. Thoughtless disturbance of this balance though destructive harvesting methods result in the release of previously locked up carbon stores that takes decades to recover.
What can I / we do?
Reduce your consumption
As with any consumable product, think about what you are doing and ask yourself if you need to use the product or if you can reduce its consumption. If you do need to use the product, remember it has a life after its use and you should consider the implications of that as well.
Choose products with FSC certification
FSC is a pioneering organisation that recognised the need to monitor, restrict and control the harvesting of wood from both commercial plantations and from wild sources where prime forests (both tropical and temperate) face severe destruction. Most informed individuals are now aware, to a lesser or larger degree, of the environmental issues that harvesting or growing wood has on our planet in terms of deforestation and impact on natural resources.
As a third party organisation, FSC oversee and monitor wood sources to ensure that the wood comes from sustainable, renewal resources and also acts to restrict, manage and minimise the extraction of rare woods or the destruction of ancient forests.
Most people associate deforestation with the tropics, the rainforests and the southern hemisphere, but the same issues face us in the Northern hemisphere, where ancient deciduous and coniferous forests can also be at risk and disappear in the blink of an eye without careful management and oversight.
The issues that FSC certification address, extend beyond simple forestry management and reporting, and cover 10 principles that cover a much broader range of issues which include maintaining high conservation values, to community relations and workers rights as well as monitoring the environmental and social impact of forest management.
FSC certification for us is one way amongst a number of tools we use, of ensuring that the wood fibres we use in our products and packaging comes from sources that are independently monitored and regulated to ensure the sustainability of the resource and care for the broader environment and our social responsibilities.
More information about their activities can be found on their website www.fsc.org including their standards, traceability and reporting. You can also check the FSC registrations that the If You Care products carry and what each certification means.
Rubber is an amazingly versatile material whose origin is the white latex sap of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). The tree originated in the Amazon forest as the name suggests but commercially, now comes from South East Asia and is also grown in other tropical climates such as Sri Lanka.
The alternatives to products previously made with rubber come from mineral oil to produce materials such as vinyl, butyl Rubber, Neoprene and many other materials that have some heavy environmental costs, not simply in the extraction of raw materials, but in the long term impact of these materials at the end of life as they do not break down in to life supporting material that contributes to the full recycling of organic material that sustains life on the planet.
Rubber unfortunately has a very dark history, one of commercial theft, exploitation and slavery. The darkest days of the industry were under King Leopold of Belgium, where he used enforced slave labour from 1891 to 1906 to produce rubber in the Belgian congo and committed many atrocities that are recently coming to light. At If You Care, we are mindful of this history and are determined to do all we can to bring some proper balance and fairness in to rubber production and to shed some light on the wonderful possibilities of this renewable and astonishingly versatile material.
The issues that need consideration
Impact on forests
Rubber is an agricultural product and comes from both large plantations as well as small holdings run by families. Clearing forest for planting rubber is an issue that needs careful monitoring. Rubber trees take around 7 years to come in to production and then have a productive life of around 25 years after that. So, a good long cycle compared to many crops and one that if carefully managed can provide a relatively stable habitat for the various animals and plants that also share the areas where rubber is grown.
Labour and Exploitation
Collecting rubber is a labour intensive process that involves teams of people entering a plantation twice a day to trim the bark and collect the sap. Many plantations use migrant workers and locals to do this work, but the pay can be low and the hours can be long. Workers can be exploited under these conditions.
Low pay and returns on rubber
Rubber is a commodity product that is traded on the world market in its various forms. This can mean that rubber tappers face uncertain returns for their crop and it is difficult for families to secure a reliable income and some can be left destitute and trapped in a cycle of poverty.
End of life issues
Many synthetic rubber alternatives (such as vinyl gloves) have long term impacts on the environment. Synthetic materials made from oil, such as vinyl do not compost and cannot be recycled. Rubber is a resilient material, but it is made from vulcanised (heat treated) plant sap (latex) and will ultimately degrade as anyone who has a pair of crepe rubber soled shoes will know!
What Can I / we do?
Fair Rubber certification
If You Care is a member of the Fair Rubber association and our gloves are made with Fair Rubber certified raw material.
Further details of the Fair Rubber association can be seen on their website www.fairrubber.org but in their own words, the aim of the Fair Rubber Association is the expansion and application of the concept of Fair Trade for products made from natural rubber. In the Fair Rubber Association, companies engaged in rubber products, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and individuals work together. The ultimate aim of the Association is to thereby contribute to an improvement of the working and living conditions of the primary producers of natural latex (rubber), as well as promote the environmentally friendly production of natural rubber, as chemical free production, first and foremost benefits those engaged in the cultivation of the natural rubber.
To achieve these aims, If You Care and its suppliers abide by the criteria of the association and in addition, we pay a fixed Fair Rubber premium directly to the producer groups who supply the rubber that is independent of outside influence. It is the producer groups who control and determine how to use the premium.
The process is monitored by external auditors, but the cost of any audits are paid for by the Fair Rubber Association (through the Fair Rubber membership fees) to ensure that these costs do not fall on the producer groups.
FSC certified plantations
At the same time as the Fair Rubber certification, If You Care also ensures the plantations are certified FSC thereby ensuring proper, open and transparent management of the plantations and the impact they have on the wider environment (see the section on FSC)
Rubber composting and end of life environmental impacts
Our rubber products don’t carry a composting certificate. Why?
We always look at the full life cycle of a product. From raw materials, usage and end of life and this includes our rubber products.
Our rubber gloves are made from natural latex sap. A white, sticky gum like liquid, that is collected from the tree. A green die is added and plaster moulds are then dipped in to the liquid latex. The wet latex is then dusted with cotton powder before being heated (a process called vulcanisation) to turn the rubber firm and durable. And that’s it.
The vulcanisation of the gloves makes the gloves strong, flexible and durable. The gloves do not meet the exacting standards of composting standard EN13432 which requires the gloves degrade within the stated time of 12 weeks and completely degrade after 6 months to form a biomass that supports life (i.e. compost!).
We can’t therefore put a composting certificate on the gloves. We do know however, that the gloves will degrade in time and revert to their plant origins, completing that circle of life that we need to observe so carefully. We also know that you can help the process.
Use the sun
If you have a greenhouse or sunny window ledge, leave the gloves in the sun. The ultraviolet from the suns rays will help harden the bonds in the rubber and it will begin to crumble.
Chop up the gloves
Cutting the gloves up in to small pieces and adding them to your compost heap will also help the microbes that feed on rubber
complete their work and begin to decompose the rubber as they feed on it. There are around 50 different microorganisms that feed on rubber and help return it to the soil.
Study on labour conditions in rubber
Factors Affecting Free Labour Movement Amongst Rubber Industry Workers Within the ASEAN Economic Community-AEC
Preecha Nobnorb and Wanno Fongsuwan, 2014. Factors Affecting Free Labour Movement Amongst Rubber Industry Workers Within the ASEAN Economic Community-AEC. Research Journal of Business Management, 8: 427-439.
Biodegredation of Natural Rubber and related compounds
Karsten Rose, Alexander Steinbüchel
You will notice a number of composting certifications on our products. We are really committed to composting and at this point we should explain that what we mean by this is not “degradation” or “biodegradeabity” of a product, but the composting of a product from its constituent parts to a life giving, soil making compost.
Other organic matter is also considered “biodegradeable”, such as a banana skin that is regrettably discarded by the side of the road. It will eventually degrade in time under the physical actions of weathering and the biological actions of the microbes that feed on it, but it can take longer than most people think.
The problem of these definitions is the hijacking of the term “biodegradeable” to describe some types of plastic.
The issues we need to consider.
Some plastics declare themselves biodegradeable, in the sense that they break down under the forces of nature in-to small fragments. However, these micro plastics still remain in the environment and then begin to accumulate in the food chain and in organisms where they cause harm. There is increasing evidence that they do this by starving the creatures that eat them as well as mimicking hormone disruptors that can alter the behaviours and growth of organisms.
Filter feeders such as molluscs and prawns have been shown to accumulate these microplastics in their gut. These creatures themselves can then be eaten by larger organisms where the process repeats itself. Scientists have even been able to find microplastics in the tissue of large animals where they have passed from the gut and been assimilated in the organism. The long term consequences of this are not clear, but the evidence points to some serious long term problems ahead of us.
Some plastics are made from starch polymers that typically come from potatoes or corn. Such plastics with a “compost” certificate do in fact degrade to their organic constituent parts and from a life giving compost. Not to be confused with other types of “biodegradeable” plastics.
CO2 Production from composting
The break down of organic material during composting caused by the actions of microbes, does release carbon dioxide in-to the environment. It is a living process and composting is considered a “biogenic” process (a substance made by or of life forms), not “anthropogenic” (physical changes on the environment caused by the actions of humans)
Methane Production from composting
There are different methods of composting materials. Aneorobic (in oxygen deprived conditions) and Aerobic (in oxygen rich conditions).
Anaerobic composting and breakdown of organic materials (such as in anaerobic compost clamps, or in landfill sites) does release Methane, a potent greenhouse gas which is 4 times more harmful than CO2 in contributing to the greenhouse effect.
However, composting in aerobic conditions does not result in methane production as the methane producing bacteria cannot survive in oxygen rich conditions.
In aerobic conditions, under the action of bacteria and fungi, heat is produced that helps kill pathogens and seeds and a stable carbon based humus (compost) emerges that is weed free and safe to use to grow crops and build the organic matter in soil.
What can I / we do?
Look for the composting certification on the products you buy and make sure you sort and return viable products to the composting cycle.
OK Home Compost certified products will compost in the variable conditions of your own home compost bin and OK Compost can be put in your composting collection bin. Where these facilities exist, the products will be composted in large, managed sites to produce good home compost that will be returned to the community or put back on to the land.
Article on human consumption of plastic particles
Article on filter feeders ingesting plastic particles
DW – Krill and microplastics
Composting to avoid methane production