As the plastic pollution crisis continues to persist and evolve, some environmental leaders are stepping up to provide truly sustainable solutions
One of these organizations is Canada’s own Greenlid, which is revolutionizing what it means to be green with its sustainable and compostable alternatives to single-use plastics.
Single-use plastics make up most plastic litter found in freshwater environments in Canada, with 15 billion plastic bags being used every year, and almost 57 million plastic straws being used daily. The pandemic has also brought a surge in waste from takeout orders, further contributing to the plastic pollution crisis.
Greenlid aims to tackle these challenges by providing truly sustainable products to empower businesses and consumers to be more eco-conscious. Environment 911 had the opportunity to pick the brain of Greenlid’s co-founder and CEO Morgan Wyatt (pictured in the middle), whose background in the sustainability space ranges from inventing biodegradable mosquito traps and helping combat the Zika crisis to raising funds through Kickstarter to develop the first fully compostable organic waste container that resulted in a deal on Dragons' Den.
Here are some of the insights shared by Morgan on looking towards a more sustainable way forward...
E911: From mosquito traps (Biotraps) to organic waste containers to the exciting developments at Greenlid, you have quite the resume in the entrepreneurial and sustainability space. What guiding principles have helped you pursue your endeavours?
Morgan: Our guiding principles lie in trying to offer solutions that are more sustainable and simpler for people. As a responsible producer, our ethos is to consider what goes into our products and where they end up (never trash or floating in the ocean). We try to look at products that have a positive impact and not just fit consumer temporal need states, but at the same time make them in a way so at the end of life they can be responsibly disposed of.
We don’t believe in using compostable plastics, and as a result we have developed materials that are based on natural substances like birch, wheat, bamboo, palm leaf and others. For Biotraps, we address the need in health for mosquito-borne illness, but mass spraying of chemicals to kill mosquitoes is not sustainable, so we made a truly biodegradable product that limits pesticide use and is more effective.
Currently, we are expanding vastly in the food service area and as a chosen private label supplier of many companies for truly compostable products that are disposable, addressing the single-use plastic bans—like birch cutlery instead of plastic straws, wheat drinking straws versus plastic or paper straws, palm-leaf tableware, and molded fibre products that have new technology that do not use fluorinated chemicals linked to cancer that many of our competitors use. We have also solved the coffee cup lid problem, as no coffee cup lids are recyclable or compostable. We’ve made a truly amazing fibre-based product that fits tight, feels like a normal lid, but can break down in a compost pile.
E911: Many of us are skeptical. The documentary Seaspiracy has raised concerns about blindly trusting products that are labelled as sustainable. How is Greenlid helping us to be more confident consumers?
Morgan: I do not believe in labels and definitions being locked in for all time. New information arises, and we should respond. When plastics arrived, they were revolutionary, but we did not understand the impact. We do now, so what do we do?
I also believe what we ‘count’ is what we make change for. We shouldn’t be counting plastic in the ocean; we should be counting viable fish stock as an important metric.
In particular, certifications are rife with definitions that suited a person, government or company at a certain time. These should not be dogmatic. For instance, Certified Compostable standards were developed and created by the chemical companies decades ago when they invented compostable plastics, now everything has to meet these standards; however, this was not done in consultation with the facilities that process them and as a result, there is not a single curbside collection program that collects these types of plastics. The big reason that compost facilities cannot process these items is that they have to process tonnage on a small budget fast and cannot meet a perfect 90-day laboratory setting and secondly, they have no way to visually tell which plastic is compostable and which is not so they are sorted out and head to landfill. If not processed properly, these will last in the oceans and environment for years, like regular plastics.
Also pay attention to Certified Marine Biodegradable. This is also a perfect laboratory setting and is defined by 80 percent breakdown after two years! Why are these products being praised, when we could be doing so much better? Let's make recyclable plastics that can be used over and over and encourage recycling and demand recycled content in all plastics which will in turn make recycling more valuable and increase plastic collection.
Bottle collection is 95 percent plus efficient as we have ascribed a value to a waste product; however, I am not for plastic bottle return programs as often they are ground up after collected making it almost impossible to recycle.
E911: How has the pandemic affected the plastic pollution crisis in terms of takeout waste, and what should us consumers be aware of in order to not perpetuate the problem?
Morgan: I think the waste has always been there, but instead of being disposed of on the street or at work, it is now being collected in your homes where you actually can see the issue. This is why it is becoming a topic for everyday people. Some plastics we get are recyclable or the aluminum trays, but when we start seeing so much Styrofoam and bad plastics (black plastic—can’t remove colour, reduces value). I think it’s extremely important to consider how these products are made, from what, and how they reach you so you understand the true carbon footprint. Then you should, think: where do these end up? If it’s not being recycled or composted into another valuable product or reused I would demand more from your restaurants, retailers and the initial producers.
E911: What steps need to be taken in eliminating single-use plastics and tackling the plastic pollution crisis?
Morgan: We need to be responsible producers and consumers. There is enough plastic out there that if we recycled and made it into products over and over again, we would never have waste. We just have to make products from these types of plastics that are easily recycled. For instance, PET (common plastic bottle) is one of the best recyclable plastics and can be re-made endlessly into new bottles or other products. We should regulate what plastics can be used for products that work in our current system, invest in recycling technologies that can process the others, and on top of that regulate the requirement of recycled content in all products which would drive up value of recycled material making the whole system more economically viable.
Unfortunately, many products are made with types of plastics or materials that are difficult to recycle or don't have end value. For instance, think of the complexity and amount of energy it takes to try to recycle a TetraPak that is made from multi-layered materials. We shouldn’t be considering these a more ‘green’ alternative when clearly a 100 percent recycled plastic option that is placed in a recycling bin can be remade into something of high value with minimal energy.
We should think beyond single-use plastics bans to just all products. With our need to define things as single-use plastics, we forget what our end state goal is, to reduce waste and make the world better for our grandchildren. How much energy goes into a reusable Nalgene bottle or one of the aluminum reusable bottles that companies are so fast to give away for marketing materials as an appearance of sustainability. How many times do you use that bottle (one to two years)? What is the carbon footprint of it being manufactured (high) and where does it end up (hint: likely landfill)
E911: What types of small changes can citizens and businesses implement in order to secure a more environmentally sustainable future?
Morgan: Don’t make small changes—make big changes. If you have the will to make a big change in your organization, do it. It cannot be about one person recycling one more aluminum can or picking up a single piece of Styrofoam you see on the road.
Let’s create a policy for your company, restaurant or family where you will not purchase a product that is not in a circular economy. Companies should not present consumers with products that are bad for our health or environment. Why is it every individual's responsibility when it ends up in our laps after takeout, when one person can decide at a plastic cutlery manufacturing plant or at a major retailer or restaurant that they will no longer produce, sell or buy plastic cutlery that ends up polluting the environment.
If a store made it a policy not to put a 48-pack of plastic forks for $2.99 beside a 24-pack of birch cutlery for the same price, you wouldn’t have a choice and who has 48 friends anyways? These are convenience items that are destroying our environment. Let’s open our imagination to different solutions. Just because there is a current demand doesn’t mean we can’t think bigger and an end state world that has zero waste, where we all work together in a circular economy.