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Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

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The breakthrough, spurred by the discovery of plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese dump, could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.”

Read the full article here.

By  for The Guardian.

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Waste plastic bottles and other types of plastic waste at the waste disposal site in Thilafushi, part of the Maldives. Credit: Shutterstock/ Mohamed Abdulraheem

 

There’s no love lost for plastic packaging. Whether it’s complicated recycling instructions on the products we buy, startling images of the impacts on wildlife or simply the economic value lost through waste, plastics have been climbing the international agenda for years. So how do 8 million tonnes of plastic still end up in the ocean each year?

Searching for the right solutions

The urgency of the issue has led to brands, governments, NGOs and celebrities promoting a host of solutions. Reusable packaging is part of the answer, and shopping bags, water bottles and coffee cups have become popular purchases for those trying to do their bit. This works to replace certain types of packaging, but think about all the other pieces of plastic we come into contact with every single day. Plastic film can keep food fresher for longer, and wrappers ensure medical equipment is safe for patients. In many cases, it wouldn’t be hygienic, convenient or feasible to go fully reusable.

Read the full article on innovations such as packaging inspired by nature, made from food waste and more here.

By Joe Iles for GreenBiz.

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On December 20, 2017, the sustainability team at PATA held a waste management workshop for PATA staff at PATA headquarters. We invited Gili Back, Sustainability Manager at Khiri Travel, as guest speaker to share best practice examples for waste management in a business environment here in Bangkok.

We kicked off the lunch with a delicious lunch from The Lunch Box, initiated and run by Gili Back. To reduce packaging waste from individual servings, we had a buffet-style lunch, served in reusable serving bowls with reusable plates and cutlery. Making a conscious choice about the food we served, we tried three different vegan lunch options, and encouraged PATA staff to try a dietary shift while thinking about the ingredients in our food and the impact eating meat makes on our environment.

   
Gili shared recycling practices and alternatives to single use disposable plastic that are available here in Thailand. She shared helpful tips for how to be more sustainable not only in the office but also at home. Gili then provided insights about how to correctly separate and recycle at the source, such as encouraging everyone to reduce and ultimately avoid plastic use by saying no to single use plastic straws and plastic bags. Gili explained the differences between recycling, composting, and disposal for a better understanding of waste separating practices. She also addressed common misconceptions about bioplastics, such as that bio based plastics are always biodegradable, and fossil-based plastics are never biodegradable or compostable.

Veronika, PATA’s Sustainability & Social Responsibility Associate then shared some astounding facts about waste in Bangkok. Did you know that Bangkokians use 8.1 million plastic bags per day? Learning this, we aim to do our part to improve our sustainability efforts at PATA by introducing new waste separation guidelines.

To put our new knowledge into practice, everyone participated in a fun team activity. Teams raced to correctly separate a bag filled with different types of waste from the office.

   
The winning team explained how they separated their waste to the other teams. We also discussed items that some teams weren’t sure how to categorise. Everyone received a reusable tumbler/water bottle carry bag as prize and was invited to personalise it. We then took our newly separated and repurposed it to create beautiful decorations for this holiday season.

   
   
Following this workshop, we introduced new colour-coded bins that are now in in office pantry to help everyone separate and recycling waste correctly in the future.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Guest blogger Jackie Edwards reminds us about our everyday choices and suggests sustainable ways to start the new year!

Humans have unarguably an enormous impact on our planet. With a growing population needing ever more resources, it’s really important to think about how your life has an impact on the environment around you, and take responsibility.

Some of the greatest effects are the most obvious – like air travel, for example, which is why being a sustainable traveller is really important. However, there are plenty of things to think about a little closer to home as well – consumption of petrol in the USA has more than quadrupled since the 1950s. Sustainability is important in all areas of our lives but really does begin in the home. Small changes to your everyday life will add up over the years to help make a positive impact for generations to come, so consider what you can do differently.

 

Consumable resources

Reducing your water and electricity consumption is a great place to start. Both are necessary to everyday life, but making sure that you are using it efficiently and without unnecessary waste is really important. Get your plumbing checked out for any leaks, and reduce the amount of water your toilet uses to flush – and even try an eco-friendly shower-head. Swap your light bulbs for low-energy LED models, and remember to turn them off when leaving a room – as well as other electrical items like your TV or laptop. You can also help the bigger picture by switching energy suppliers to one committed to using green renewable power.  

 

What’s on the table?

Sustainability isn’t simply about using less: it’s also being smarter about what we do use. Take a look at your pantry and fridge: where does your food come from? How far has it travelled to reach your plate, and how sustainable are the growing and manufacturing processes. You don’t necessarily have to turn vegan, but choosing ethical and sustainable local sources for your meat and dairy products is one way to reduce your impact. Buy only what you need to reduce wastage, and set up a compost bin in your garden to avoid sending any organic scraps to landfill.

 

Shopping and material goods

Whether you’re picking up your weekly shopping or making a big, one-off purchase, take a moment to think about the wider impacts of your choice. Home cleaning products, for example, can contain some really nasty chemicals, which create problems further down the water system – and make sure that as much packaging for food and other products you buy is recyclable or reusable. This is also a good idea to consider when you’re choosing big-ticket items like furniture or electrical equipment: what is its lifespan and how will you get rid of it? Make sure it can be recycled or re-used, and consider paying a bit extra for a quality product that will last longer.

 

Some of these changes will require altering habits and comforts we just take for granted – but with a commitment to sustainability driving you, it won’t be long before this becomes the norm and you can be more confident about your impact on the planet.

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Bangkok’s Fight Against Plastic Waste

Categories: Blog Posts, Southeast, Waste
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by Juliane Little, Account Executive, Precious Plastics Bangkok

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know that plastic doesn’t actually decompose? Over time it’ll start to break down into smaller pieces called microplastics; however, it’ll never fully be removed from our planet.

So how do we expect to tackle this ever-growing issue about plastic waste? While there is no short or easy answer, there are steps we can begin to take towards a brighter, better future.

Let me first introduce myself… My name is Juliane Little and I’m an expat, who has lived in Thailand for just over 2 years now. It was my love for adventure, the ocean, and beauty that brought me all the way from the USA to this beautiful country. Within a short few months, I started to notice there is a huge issue with plastic consumption and recycling in Thailand. This plastic waste comes in all shapes and sizes and is used by teachers, construction workers, people on holiday and even by myself.

Plastic is the ultimate convenience. It’s cheap to make and buy, it’s extremely versatile, and it’s strong. All of these benefits make it easy to forget the potential harm one straw or bottle cap can actually do. We assume that once we dispose if it, it magically disappears. However, we are starting to realize the harsh truth and it’s coming back to bite us (quite literally). Our oceans and lands are being overrun with waste, and animals have turned to plastic as a source of food. There are already traces of plastic in the fish that we are consuming. Scientists have even predicted that by the year 2050 – there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish (by weight).

Ocean Marina, Pattaya, Thailand

After some random web searching, I came across a plastic recycling project, which I immediately thought, “this is what Bangkok needs, this is what the world needs.” I’ve found that many people don’t get involved in volunteer work or conservation efforts, because they don’t know where to start. Trust me – it’s hard, especially living in a foreign country!

Thanks to Dave Hakkens, that is about to change.

Precious Plastics is a project created by Dave Hakkens, which helps people around the world set up their own local plastic workshops. Hakkens’ open source website gives A to Z instructions on how to build all the machines needed to break down plastic and turn it into something new. The possibilities are endless and the creativity doesn’t end on their website. The hope of this project is to encourage upcycling and provide an educational work place for the community.

I have decided to tackle the project and create a Previous Plastics workshop here in Bangkok. Our mission for the Bangkok workshop is to educate the community on plastic waste and consumption. We would achieve this by holding workshops around how to properly use our recycling machines and turn plastic back it back into raw material. This can then be used to create new tools and objects for use and even to sell. During these workshops we will provide tips on avoiding one-time use plastic and lowering your plastic waste footprint! Once you are properly trained on safety and usage, you’ll have free access to the workshop where you are able to upcycle whatever you can think of.

While this project is in its initial stages, we have already had a lot of positive feedback from the community and people who are eager to support in anyway possible. Our next step is to build the machines and find them a temporary home.

If you are interested in getting involved, please reach out to me personally or follow us on Facebook! What we need the most are people who are passionate about saving the planet and reducing plastic pollution. There are many steps we need to take to get this project off the ground and I would love to have you join our team. Feel free to follow the page for updates on our project and also tips to becoming more eco-friendly.

Through the Precious Plastic’s Bangkok Project, I hope to spread more awareness of plastic pollution and give back to the community. Join our cause and let’s get one step closer to a greener, healthier planet.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

 

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The Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre (Credit: Green Hotelier)

The meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) sector has a bigger role to play in measuring and promoting sustainable travel according to Stewart Moore of EarthCheck.

The MICE sector represents big business, delivering major economic benefits that are a key contributor to the growth in tourism and leisure development worldwide. And the benefits from MICE extend far beyond the actual hosting of the event, with trade opportunities being generated in both host and visitor countries: tourism represents 5% of global GDP and contributes to more than 8% of total employment.

“The sheer size and reach of the tourism and travel sector now gives it a substantial voice, but it is important to recognise that you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” EarthCheck CEO and founder, Stewart Moore said.

Mr Moore said he is surprised that MICE operators and tourism groups worldwide, who are doing excellent work in sustainability, seem to be still hesitant to share their stories.

 

Read the full article what the MICE industry can do more to promote sustainable travel here.

By  for The Green Hotelier.

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What a load of rubbish: the traditional focus is on litter-picking volunteer groups. Photograph: Alamy

It’s time the responsibility for recycling was laid firmly at the door of the packaging manufacturers

Litter brings out an urge in me to ban everything. Under my regime, straws would be outlawed. Plastic drinks bottles – only 57% of which find their way into recycling – would be verboten. But top of the list of banned items would be wacky recycling surveys.

The latest, from Business Waste, highlights the craziest eco blunders found in the nation’s recycling bins. The list includes a car door, 1,000 Greenpeace badges (oh, the irony!) and a full Christmas dinner including plates, tablecloth, crackers and pudding.

Read the full article on ethical and green living here.

By Lucy Siegle for The Guardian.

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by Nicolas Dubrocard, Former Wild Asia Project Director, auditor for Travelife and Green Globe, and Director of Audit Diagnostic Solutions Tourism

Nicolas Dubrocard

 

I started my path on sustainable tourism exactly ten years ago in Morocco where I was supporting small accommodations and hotels to obtain the Green Key international eco label and to save water through Travel Foundation’s programme called Every Drop Counts.

From the beginning of this journey I discovered that there was an area where it is easy to implement changes with huge environmental positive impacts: the bathroom.

The reasons were obvious: more efficient showerheads and taps save substantial amounts of water and energy (used to heat the water or pump it around the building) as well as limits the volume of grey water to be treated. A showerhead is easy to change, low in cost and has a payback of a few months if the original one is very inefficient. I visited hotels with shower water flows between 20 and 22 litres per minute, which is twice the amount recommended by international eco labels!

One can only imagine the amount of water and energy that could be saved annually!?

A quick calculation: let’s consider that a new showerhead can reduce the flow by ten litres per minute and the guest uses it only once a day for ten minutes (already a low figure) — the savings would be around thirty six cubic meters per year per room permanently occupied!

Most of the decision makers consider that this is not an interesting area for cost savings because water is cheap; they do not consider the real cost of water, including pumping, treatment, heating (keeping in mind that a hotel needs to heat a third of its water needs).

The financial savings is so considerable that it becomes ridiculous. It’s even inconceivable to still find that these older devices are still place, especially in destinations where the water resources are at risk; massive water wastage will lead to more tension between local communities and hotels.

So the first step for hotel managers, hotel engineering directors and even at home is to monitor and control the water flow in the shower. Don’t wait, do it now!

This part of the business is so easy, it should be mandatory and it’s a shame if a hotel’s owner or managing company is not following the sustainability experts advice during the hotel’s building phase; they would save so much time, money and natural resources!

After the technical aspects, I also had a look at the communication in the bathroom: the famous towel reuse programme. Again, the positive impacts are immense: water, energy, labour and chemicals are embedded in the towel cleaning.

Photo: Nicolas Dubrocard

Photo: Nicolas Dubrocard

What has happened over the past ten years? The initial situation was simple: no one cared about reusing towels. At some point, some hotels started to communicate about it, asking the guests to participate to the towel reuse programme. Then, every hotel started to create its own communication. Most hotels, at the time, believed they were doing something cool and positive but they have mostly been using guilt as a leverage: “Save the planet”, “Help save the environment”, “Do you know how much chemicals we use to clean your towels”… highlighting the negative aspects of having new towel every day. This kind of wording was analysed and there are now much better ways to engage the clients to participate, such as using social norms[2]. In a few years the messages to reuse the towel have flourished in bathrooms like Caulerpa Taxifolia in Mediterranean Sea. Looking at this trend, it is amazing to realize that the industry at large did make a move – but is it really a change?

I’m afraid it’s not.

Let’s look at one more aspect: the staff training. This is the Achilles’ heel of most hotels. It is very complicated to change the way housekeepers are working – what they have learned and even their sense of ethics (which dictates to change all towels in the bathroom). One can also not forget the limited amount of time to clean each room which really means that a housekeeper should not lose any time making a decision regarding the towels. As a consequence, it happens that towels meant to be reused are replaced, making the client very angry. Imagine that you already took time to review all the documentation (sometimes written so small that you need magnifying glass to read it!), to understand finally where to hang your towel and now very proud of yourself, you realize that these very towels have been replaced, destroying all your efforts to save the planet, to reduce the use of a significant amount of chemicals, while on vacation…you will feel bad, betrayed… It is enough to write a negative online comment!

And what should guests think about the resort hotels asking them to reuse the bathroom towel while offering a free flow of 2m X 1m beach towels?

I had the chance during my career to adapt and implement over a period of two years a programme called “Kuoni Water Champion” in Thailand, aiming to help 26 hotels to reduce their water consumption[3]. During this action we emphasized as much as possible towel reuse and we tried to introduce a new approach following the Make A Green Choice programme initiated by Starwood in Europe, Africa, Middle East division in 2015.

This programme has three advantages; firstly, by giving guests the choice to decline housekeeping services, housekeepers do not have to make the decision regarding towels in a room; secondly, it is rewarding guests who participate in the action (via a voucher, loyalty points or donation) therefore diminishing the feeling that when participating to a towel reuse programme the biggest winner is the hotel; and thirdly, it also means that there is real monitoring and follow up where guests are encouraged to participate in and are made aware of the programme upon their arrival. There are certainly some downsides to this system; it may in a mid or long term reduce the need for housekeepers and contribute to unemployment; however, at least there is an alternative to the towel reuse communication.

For each problem in the hotel industry, there is a solution. Some chains or individual hotels are really committing and doing their best. However, there is still a majority of industry players refusing to embrace the sustainability topics, keeping closed eyes on potential sources of revenue or cost efficiencies.

Photo: Nicolas Dubrocard

Photo: Nicolas Dubrocard

When will the hoteliers and hotel owners understand that sustainability is not a gadget but the best way to manage a hotel and increase their benefits? When will the architects stop building inefficient buildings?

Should we wait another ten years to realize that we could actually shape right now – with a little investment, repeated trainings and a lot of good will – a more sustainable industry where the hotels will not be seen as energy and water squanderer and where tensions with local communities are avoided?

 

*****

 

[1] For the person interested in monitoring their water flow in the shower, here is a short video in English and Thai

[2] A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels, by Noah J. Goldstein, Robert B. Cialdini , Vladas Griskevicius

[3] Free manual to download

 

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

 

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Recycling Tips for Your Post-Holiday Waste

Categories: Green Tips, People and Places, Planet, Waste
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Wondering how to deal with all that decorations and waste from gift giving after the holiday season? Here are 5 handy tips for your post-holiday waste:


  #1: Christmas Trees 

Don’t throw away your Christmas trees when the holiday is over. Real Christmas trees are biodegradable, which means they can be easily reused or recycled for mulch and other purposes. Learn how to recycle your Christmas tree and give it a second life.

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 #2: LED Lights 

If your lights still work after the holiday season, reuse them for as long as possible. When they can no longer be used, take the time to help the environment and have them turned in for recycling. Check out where and how to recycle your old lights.

#3: Gift Wrappingshutterstock_167381660

Don’t just toss wrapping paper, boxes, ribbons, bows, or other gift wrap accessories that are in good shape. You can preserve recycle wrapping paper of all kinds by unwrapping your gifts carefully and save wrapping for crafts as well as future celebrations or holidays. Here are 19 ways to repurpose gift wrap, plus another 30 fun ways to reuse leftover gift wrap.

#4: Cards 

Wondering what to do with all the holiday cards after the holidays are long gone? It’s time to get crafty – check out these websites for more ideas on recycling and reuse your used holiday cards:

#5: Gift

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Amazon Give Back Box (photo credit: Amazon)

Are your gifts not quite your taste? Here’s what you can do with unwanted gifts after the holiday.

Let’s us make an effort to be ‘zero-waste’ in time for New Year’s, and beyond!

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Today, the United States observes Thanksgiving – an event commonly associated with the arrival of Pilgrims and Puritans from England in the early 17th century.

Tomorrow is Black Friday – where shops in America (and other countries) offer big discounts and sales to mark the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. The shopping frenzy that occurs on Black Friday results in excessive consumerism with millions of people around the world purchasing goods, often without giving much thought to the environmental effects of their production and disposal.

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Here are some ways to counter the negative impacts of conspicuous consumption:

Go Against the Grain – Buy Nothing! buy keep-calm-and-dont-shop-green
Grassroots organisations that aim to increase people’s awareness to excessive consumerism have been gaining ground. One of the more popular movements is ‘Buy Nothing Day’ (BND) which intentionally occurs on Black Friday. Instead of consuming, thousands of people from at least 60 countries who take part go on a 24-hour spending detox.

In addition to buying nothing, BND supporters also organise activities like “zombie walks”, where participants walk around shopping malls with blank stares in their faces. There is also the “Wildcat General Strike” where people keep all their lights, electronics and other appliances turned off for a day. They don’t use their mobile phones or cars either!

Saturday Splurge
Critics of Buy Nothing Day point out that people tend to go on a shopping binge the day after. In comes ‘Small Business Saturday’ where shoppers are encouraged to support local economies by spending their money on local and independent shops instead of big retailers. (Here’s why it’s important.) Last year, American Express, a founding partner of the event, reported that 95 million people went out to shop at small businesses on Small Business Saturday, spending US$14.3 billion on purchases.

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Don’t Stop There
Being a sustainable shopper shouldn’t be limited to the holiday season. It is a conscious choice we should make with every single purchase. As always, the ultimate goal is living a life that is healthy for us and therefore the environment. Making sustainable choices is a lifetime challenge, but do it often enough and it becomes second-nature.

Remember that you’re not alone in this fight! Check out our Green Tips articles on how to form new sustainable habits and apps for a sustainable lifestyle.

And stay tuned next week, as we shine a light on people living alternative green lifestyles (think minimalists, freegans and dumpster divers).

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