AT ORERA TECH, WE STRIVE TO CREATE A CIRCULAR ECONOMY BUT WHAT EXACTLY DOES THAT MEAN?
Our vision is to pave the way towards a cleaner future by reducing plastic waste. We are doing away with the traditional method of use and dispose (linear economy) and implementing a sustainable closed loop of using, reusing and regenerating (circular economy).
INTERESTING…BUT IS PLASTIC POLLUTION REALLY THAT BIG OF DEAL?
According to the United Nations, 8 million tonnes of plastic flows into our waterways yearly. Approximately half of all plastic waste that enters our oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The Philippines produces 6,237,653 kg per day, 81% of which is mismanaged, meaning it consumes our rivers, oceans, landfills, and communities!
Data from “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean” by Jenna Jambeck and others, published in Science (2015)
SO WE GET IT, THAT’S A MESSY SITUATION BUT WHY IS PLASTIC POLLUTION HARMFUL?
We could go on and on about the harms of disposable plastic but for the purpose of keeping it short we’ll limit ourselves to three significant concerns:
Greater than 99% of plastic produced is made from oil, natural gas, and coal — All fossil fuels from non-renewable resources with high CO2 footprints.
Plastic is not compostable due to its chemical makeup meaning it will take anywhere from 400-1000 years for plastic to completely go away. That means most of the plastic produced since the 1950’s is still taking up space in our environment and it doesn’t plan on going anywhere soon.
Scientists warn there could be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050 if we don’t take action. Plastic either breaks down into tiny microscopic pieces called microplastics that toxify our oceans. Small marine life consume these microplastics, working its way up the food chain all the way into our bellies. It can also be found in our tap water! Larger plastics called macroplastics like fishing nets and can holders trap small marine life or are eaten by whales and larger fish leading to marine deaths and further endangering certain species.
Source: “Banning single-use plastic: lessons and experiences from countries” UN Environment report (2018)
AT THIS POINT, WE OFTEN HEAR “CAN'T I JUST RECYCLE”?
Recycling takes waste materials like plastic bottles and converts them into reusable objects, but
did you know only 9% of plastic gets recycled? So what happens to the rest -- 12% gets burned releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere and 79% is simply laying around in our streets, landfills, or waterways. The Philippines recycles 19% of plastic mostly in the form of incineration and re-molding. Additionally, certain materials like plastic straws, sachets, plastics bags, etc. are meant for one-time use but are too lightweight or too small to be recycled, yet, they will not decompose for hundreds of years! At Orera Tech, we encourage everyone to follow a reduce, reuse, and recycle method.
Jambeck, J.R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T.R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A. et al. (2015) Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347(768-771) https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1260352.
IT SEEMS LIKE THE PHILIPPINES DOES NOT HAVE A PROPER RECYCLING SYSTEM, WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?
Addressing the root of the problem is always the best solution, especially when it comes to the ever-growing plastic pollution. Using your own reusable grocery bag is highly necessary and helps tremendously but we are facing an even more difficult problem with the number of sachets used daily in the Philippines. Don’t worry though, we have been working hard to get these corporations to be held accountable for the waste that they keep producing. With the help from our friends at Save Philippine Seas, you can use their available campaign templates to reach out to your local governments and begin addressing these problems.
GOT IT … SO WHAT ALTERNATIVE MATERIALS CAN I USE?
We encourage everyone to use reusable items whenever possible including reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, metal straws, metal tea bags and of course reusable shopping bags! However, we understand sometimes you just need that on the go coffee or quick meal during lunch and have forgotten your reusable containers. Therefore we’re working with businesses to offer biodegradable and compostable packaging that includes: paper straws, bagasse coffee cups with PLA lining, areca and bagasse to-go food packaging, birchwood cutlery, and more.
ARE YOU SERIOUSLY TELLING ME THERE IS NO BENEFIT TO PLASTIC?
Plastic makes up everything from credit cards, food containers/packages, utensils, car parts, medical supplies, kitchenware, toys, and even furniture. Clearly, it has a very big advantage and the invention of plastic has helped a lot of people. As long as it is properly managed and regulated, we can use this kind of plastic without hurting the environment or our health. With that being said, the biggest problem is single-use disposable plastic. We’re talking about the plastic wraps on your sandwiches, the styrofoam container for your food, the straws that you use for 5 minutes or the shampoo sachet that you use for one day. These are the types of plastic that will stay lingering in this world for 400 to 1000 years.
WHAT DOES BIODEGRADABLE AND COMPOSTABLE PACKAGING MEAN?
To start it’s important to know that something can be biodegradable and NOT compostable. Biodegradable means something over time (could be years) will naturally be broken down fully or partially by microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. This is not a controlled process so there is no way of predicting just how long it will take to completely go away. Compostable means something will biodegrade naturally and form nutrient-rich materials anywhere from 30 days to 2 years by simply controlling temperature, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and moisture levels. Not only does compost mean your packaging will biodegrade but it will form biomass that can, in turn, be used as fertilizer to enrich soil.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF COMPOSTING?
There are so many benefits to composting but we’ll just name a few of our favorites. By composting, it makes it possible to reduce the overall amount of waste being sent to landfills and mass-burn incinerators. This reduces CO2 and methane emissions into our atmosphere helping us slow the effects of climate change. In addition to reducing waste, the final compost humus is nutrient-rich and can be used to amend poor soils and fertilize gardens instead of using chemical fertilizers. The added compost also helps the soil retain water and therefore can improve growing conditions. We think composting is so great, we only offer fully biodegradable and compostable packaging.
NO, OUR PACKAGING WILL NOT SPONTANEOUSLY START BIODEGRADING.
Our products have a shelf life of 1 - 3 years. In order for the products to start biodegrading or composting, it will need to be exposed to a natural environment with a combination of water, oxygen, microorganisms like bacteria and fungi, as well as other withering environmental conditions. We do however recommend storing our products at room temperature, in dry conditions and sealed to ensure quality and performance.
YOU MIGHT HAVE HEARD THE TERM “BIO-PLASTICS” AND MAYBE YOU'RE WONDERING WHAT IT MEANS?
First, it is important to understand exactly what plastic means. As defined by the ACS, plastic is made of smaller molecules called polymers that are combined to make a larger unit. Most of these polymers are made from oil and release carbon dioxide (CO2) which contributes to climate change. It should also be noted that oil is not renewable and scientist predict our oil reserve may run out in 100 years! Bio-plastics are also made from polymers but these are made from sugar naturally occurring in agriculture like corn, sugarcane, cassava, etc. Bioplastics are typically called either polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). Our hot and cold beverage cups are lined with PLA rather than the traditional plastic wax lining.
Washam, C. (2010). Plastics go green. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en.html
ARE BIOPLASTICS BIODEGRADABLE AND COMPOSTABLE?
Not all bioplastics are created equal. Some bioplastics require specialized industrial composting sites or they are mixed with traditional oil-based plastics like PET (polyethylene) and therefore do not compost. Our product lining is 100% PLA and is certified biodegradable and compostable. PLA requires similar composting conditions in addition to temperatures at around 39 degrees Celsius.
WHY DO WE USE PLA?
We utilize PLA in the lining of our bagasse coffee cups to replace the traditional non-biodegradable oil-based lining. PLA is not the perfect solution to plastic due to its high production costs and high-temperature requirements for composting, however, it still offers a better environmental outcome than PET.
OKAY, ALL THIS SOUNDS GREAT BUT WHAT HAPPENS IF OUR PRODUCTS END UP IN THE OCEAN?
As much as we would want everything to be properly composted, there will still be times where our products will accidentally end up in the ocean. If that happens, luckily for the marine life it will not break down into microplastic. Unlike with the petroleum-based packaging, our bagasse and areca tableware products will just biodegrade.
DO WE THINK, THIS IS THE BEST SOLUTION FOR SUSTAINABILITY IN FOOD PACKAGING?
Right now, it is one of the more sustainable routes to take. We at Orera Tech, make sure that we function as sustainable as possible. We provide alternatives that are better for the environment by utilizing agricultural waste from renewable sources and producing biodegradable and compostable products. For now, it is better than plastic but still imperfect when it comes to “post-consumer waste.” This is why we promote a circular economy and the great importance of proper waste management. The world has an unlimited supply of waste and luckily for us, we can use it to get rid of harmful products like plastic to-go food packaging. As the world grows in population, we should expect that the waste will exponentially grow as well. We are continuously working hard to come up with the best solution to this problem.
HOW CAN I HELP REDUCE WASTE AND MANAGE IT?
In general, we as a global nation need to conserve our planet’s resources and not be economically dependent on finite resources. Governments around the world are more aware of the crisis that we’re facing, people are more vocal about making a change, and there are a lot of green companies just like us, who are making these harmless alternatives be available for everybody.