Plastic Bag Ban or Fee?

While my search for good business practices to reduce plastic bag waste yielded nothing, I discovered an ongoing war raging against the use of plastic bags which started in the early 2000. Plastic pollution is driving cities all over the World to take the hard stance against single-use plastic bag with either a complete plastic bag ban or a carry-out charge. Both strategies have been reported to yield significantly positive reduction in plastic bag use in the cities that have implemented them. But which is a preferred method?

Plastic Bag Bans

According to an article written by Jennie Romer for the Huffpost (Why Carryout Bag Fees Are More Effective Than Plastic Bag Bans), grocers and plastic bag makers in the US have contested plastic bag bans with lawsuits against the cities. Chicago recently scrapped its ban on plastic bags in favor for a 7-cent carry out fee because the ban just did not work. Stores simply upped their plastic bag thickness to 2.25 mils so as to pass as reusable bags, which are not banned by the way.

Another article written by Ben Adler for the Wired (Banning Plastic Bags Is Great For The World, Right? Not So Fast), had a different concern. He wrote “advocates of these laws and journalists who cover the issue often neglect to ask what will replace plastic bags and what the environmental impact of that replacement will be.” Consumers generally turn to paper bags which are degradable but have their own environmental consequences. Cotton reusable bags are a great alternative until we look at the amount of resources put into the cultivation of cotton crops and the production of these bags. Let us also not leave out the minor detail that cotton bags are currently not recycled anywhere.

So, banning plastic bags may not be the perfect solution. Some cities and nations around the World took the other route by adopting the practice of a fee for every single use bag. Though plastic bag bans result in the largest dip in plastic bag use,  it has also been found cities that charge a fee for every bag also record significant dips in plastic bag use.

The Ideal City Policy for Plastic Bags

Jennie Romer in her article on the Huffpost wrote, “either a bag fee on all bags or a ban/fee hybrid that covers all types of bags are the most effective methods to reduce overall bag consumption as well as avoid getting sued in the process.” I tend to agree with her because an option to use or not to use is given to the consumers. Simultaneously, the fee reminds consumers to be mindful about their use of plastic bags. It is just that much of a gentler legislation that should go down better with consumers and businesses. I would further suggest that an on-going campaign about plastics pollution will push plastic bag use even lower.

Ben Adler for the Wired, cited an Australian study which concluded that “the shift from one single-use bag to another single-use bag may improve one environmental outcome, but be offset by another environmental impact.” In other words, a ban is not the answer unless a viable plastic bag alternative is found. The same study also concluded that “the best option appears to be a reusable bag, but one made from recycled plastic, not cotton.

With these considerations, Ben Adler proposes that “the ideal city bag policy would probably involve charging for paper and plastic single-use bags, as New York City has decided to do, while giving out reusable recycled-plastic bags to those who need them, especially to low-income communities and seniors.” His consideration for the low-income communities stem from concerns by social activists who work with the low-income citizens in the US. While the low income community will benefit from the reduced plastic bag pollution, a bag fee will still be a burden to them, especially single working-moms who hold two jobs and have to do shopping in a rush. They will probably have no tote bag in hand.

Waste Management System – Incineration Plants

While bans and carry-out bag fees are catching on, Fabian Schmidt in his article for the Deutsche Welle, (Opinion: Plastic bag bans won’t save the environment), had a different take on the issue of plastic bag pollution. From his standpoint, if the concern for plastic bag use is its tendency to pollute our streets, forest and oceans, then he suggests that “the only viable solution is to develop a highly functional waste management plan – which leaves no way around modern waste incineration plants.” He cites Germany and Singapore as examples. Countries which have created an effective and very modern waste management system that involves incinerating the refuse that they collect.

My thought when I first read this article was one of full agreement. Being a Singaporean, of course I was proud of the fact that my country had it all figured out. But something about this just did not feel completely right. We all know that the problem with plastic bags is not just about pollution. The amount of resources and energy that is put into making these bags, most of which will only be used once in their entire life should not be dismissed. I am of the opinion that Singaporeans should still work towards reducing plastic bags use  for a sustainable future.

The Verdict

The verdict seem to be a resounding win for a fee instead of a ban. At the same time, efforts to encourage the use of reusable recycled plastic bags must be pursued. Finally, to reduce pollution, cities must look into a more effective waste management system that incorporates incineration plants to keep plastic bags out of the oceans, streets and forests.

Plastic Bag Conundrum

It is a Conundrum, least to say. We are just not ready to let go of plastic bags, despite the many environmental issues they cause. I judge this based on the number of plastic bags that businesses dispense daily. I am quite positive that people are using them more than necessary, especially at the grocery stores where double bagging and one item per bag are common practices.

Environmental agencies all over the World know about this problem and countries have been urging its people and businesses to use reusable bags, but success seem to be limited. The fact that they are convenient and cheap make plastic bags the winner easily all the time. Clearly, the success of the reusable bag movement is too small for any real change.

Some countries have taken the step to counter this problem through legislation. Western Australia for example will be banning single use plastic bags starting July 2018. In fact, many parts of Australia have already done that.

WA Ban Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags to be banned in WA from mid-2018 in bid to protect environment, ABC News, Jacob Kagi, Sep 12, 2017

 

Supermarket chains in Singapore on the other hand have chosen to impose a levy for every plastic bag. I understand it is going to be a small charge of between 5 to 10 cents for each bag. Considering the affluence in this country, I am not sure how much that will work. But apparently, countries which charge for plastic bags have been reported to see a significant drop in plastic bags use.

SG Plastic Bags Levy

Supermarkets in talks to charge for plastic bags, Straits Times, Audrey Tan & Samantha Boh, Sep 24, 2017

 

Banning plastic bags works for me. I mean, what other options will I have besides the reusable bag? Boxes maybe? I feel legislation does work, but what about nations who have yet to consider this “drastic” move? I am not at all sure if they will ever succumb.

I feel that our efforts should be focused on alternatives, best practices and public education. Forget about paper bags because I found out that they are as much of a hazard to the environment as plastic bags are. In fact, they are worse. So, no paper bags, but what else can there be? Let me tell you one of my fantasies. I wish some day, someone will create a type of bag that is made up of a natural material that is renewable and can be disposed as easily as flushing it down the toilet or dissolving in water to be drained away in the kitchen sink. I will name it the “guilt free shopping bag”.

Guess what, my fantasy may just come true soon. I found GXT Green, a company that produces ECOgrade Degradable bags that are made out of Calcium Olefinic Glucosate (COG). COG is actually sugarcane pulp and bees wax. These bags are photodegradable in 240 days, and the bags can be manufactured for a cost that is similar to the cost of plastic bags. The ECOgrade Degradable bags are not exactly a complete replication of my fantasy, but it is really close.

ECOgrade bags

ECOgrade Degradable Bags, GXT Green, www.gxtgreen.com/bags

I also got a tip from a fellow facebook user about a company called Avani which also produces bags made out of 100% bio-based material, also for a very low cost. Like the COG bags, I have no information about how cheap they are, but these two sure have a lot of potential.

Bio-based material bags, that look, feel and work just like plastic bags seem to be a direction that we can go. Cost is going to be a limiting factor for businesses to adopt these bags. But if they are really that low cost like what GXT Green and Avani claim their products to be, we may just have a winner.

We may have found alternatives in the form of bio-based materials bag. I am hoping to find more of such alternatives. In my next post, I am going to discuss best practices by businesses to keep plastic bags and packaging waste to a low.

 

No Charging Station? No Sweat!

This will be my last post for the series on Electric Cars. A lot have been said about the importance of infrastructure for electric vehicles to be successful. Availability of charging facilities is probably the number one concern for electric vehicle owners. Several models have been proposed and implemented to provide as many charging stations as possible for electric car owners. These range from government funding to provide charging stations throughout the nation, to car manufacturers providing their own charging network such as what Nissan and Tesla are currently doing.

In my opinion, the more charging stations, the merrier. Government, car manufacturing companies and other private enterprises must ban together to provide as many charging stations as possible. In large countries such as the USA, Europe and Australia where people may drive hours on the highways, Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, proposes a charge station for every 50 to 75 miles of road. That increases the complexity of implementing an effective nationwide charging network for its citizens.

The good news is, despite the roadblocks, countries like France, Norway and lately China and Scotland have made the decision to ban the sale of petroleum as early as 2025, paving the way for 100% electric vehicles on the road. What is more encouraging, scientists are devising alternative charging technologies that may even replace charging stations in the future. Following are two such technologies that I have come across.

Wired Up Roads – Magnetic Induction Charging

Korea, UK and Israel have been testing wired up roads that charge cars as the cars drive over them.

UK Charging Roads

These roads will charge cars as they drive, CNN Tech, Ivana Kottasova and Alanna Petroff, August 18, 2015

Israel Charging Roads

Israel Tests Wireless Charging Roads for Electric Vehicles, Scientific America, Abigail Fagan, May 11, 2017

Magnetic induction technology has been around for a long time. Harry Hoster, Director of Energy Lancaster and Professor of Physical Chemistry, Lancaster University, explains in his post on the Conversation:

Here’s how it works: an alternating current (AC) flows through a wire coil (the transmitter), which causes a magnetic field to switch between two directions at a high frequency. A second coil (the receiver) exposed to that magnetic fields picks up those oscillations, inducing an AC current in its own circuit, which is then used to power the car (or charges the battery in your toothbrush).

Harry Hoster
Wired-up roads will soon charge your electric car – while you’re driving, The Conversation, Harry Hoster, February 8, 2017

Solar Panoramic Glass Roofs for EVs

Another technology that I found to be currently in development makes use of solar power. Audi is partnering with Hanergy to produce thin-film solar cells in panoramic glass roofs. The project aims to increase the range of the Audi electric vehicle by using the electricity generated through the solar cells to power features in the car such as the air-conditioning system or the seat heaters. This way, power in the battery is conserved so that the car can go further.  Dr. Bernd Martens, Audi Board of Management Member for Procurement, explains that an entire roof covered in solar cells and charging the traction battery directly are plans for the future.

Audi car solar roof

Audi partners with Hanergy to develop solar panoramic glass roofs for EVs, Electric Cars Report, August 25, 2017

Imagine a fully self sufficient car that does not rely on an external source to charge. All it needs is the sun to be shining on most days. Not considering the parts that go into making a car, an electric vehicle that relies fully on solar power is as clean and environmentally friendly as a car can get. Because let us face it, electric cars that need to be charged still need electricity that is generated somewhere. And electricity in most countries are still produced largely by generators that use some sort of fuel. So perhaps, the fully solar powered electric car is the ultimate goal that car makers should be headed for.

While I have only come across 2 alternative charging technologies, I am sure there will be other ideas waiting to surface or be discovered by scientists and engineers. As an entrepreneur, scientist or engineer, I feel there is much potential for innovation. I am just thinking out loud here but what about the energy from wind around the car as it travels. Can we not harness that energy to be put to good use?

As I write these posts on electric cars, there is a growing anticipation in me for electric cars to make an impact in many more countries. There are skeptics and there are supporters but I am feeling optimistic. I will continue to keep abreast with the latest developments on electric vehicles and post them on my social media accounts. On to the next topic!

Covering the Basics – Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging

It really is quite simple. First, you need to know your EV’s “Battery Pack Rating”. Then you need to know your vehicle’s “Acceptance Rate” and the EV charging station’s “Output Rate”. To find the time needed to fully charge your car from empty to full charge, divide your car’s “Battery Pack Rating” by its “Acceptance Rate”, OR the EV charging station’s “Output Rate”, whichever number is lower.

Eqn

For example, the 2017 Nissan Leaf battery has a rating of 30kWh and can draw 6.6kW from a charging station. If the charging station output is 6.6kW, then the time to charge a Nissan Leaf battery pack from empty to full is

Eqn2

See here for a list of charging times for electric cars currently on the market.

4.5 hours may seem a long time, but considering our daily commute falls in the range of 40-50 miles per day, we seldom need the full 4.5 hours to charge a Leaf. A Nissan Leaf can travel approximately 107 miles on a full charge. A commute of say 50 miles from a fully charged battery will mean only half of the battery drained at the end of the day. That leaves you to charge the battery to full for less than half of the time needed.

A car’s range is useful information for a potential EV buyer. It tells the buyer how often he will have to charge his car. Obviously, the greater the range, the better it is.  The Nissan Leaf’s range is 107 miles on a 30kWh battery pack. Compare that to the Tesla 3’s model which offers either the 50kWh or the 75kWh battery options with ranges of 220 miles and 330 miles respectively. I will leave you to do the Math.

See here for a list of driving ranges for electric cars currently on the market.

Charging a car is often limited by the charger. This is where we need to understand the three different types of EV chargers that are currently available.

Level 1 Chargers

ClipperCreek Level 1 Charger

ClipperCreek Level 1 Charger

Level 1 chargers are basically the type of chargers that you can set up at home in your garage simply by plugging it into a 120V wall socket. Level 1 chargers are slow compared to their counterparts because of their low output rate, typically around 2kW.  However, it is easy to use, does not require rewiring for high amperage and the set itself is cheap enough for home use. Therefore, it is still a choice for many electric car owners provided they have an accessible wall socket.

The problem is, I was able to find only a few available for sale on Amazon. Just to give us an idea what it costs, an Orion Motor Tech, 110V 16A portable Level 1 charger costs $239.99 on Amazon. Another company that manufactures Level 1 chargers is ClipperCreek. You can find their listings for Level 1 chargers here.

 

Level 2 Chargers

Siemens Level 2 Charger

Siemens Level 2 Charger

Level 2 chargers unlike Level 1 chargers require a 208-240V AC source. They provide a wide range of output, ranging from 3.3kW to 10kW or some even more. Ultimately, the speed for charging your vehicle is dependent on how high an output your vehicle can accept. The 2017 Nissan Leaf can accept an output of 6.6kW. It thus benefits from the higher output from a Level 2 charger.

There is a lot more choices for Level 2 chargers on the market if you wish to install one for your home. Bosch, ChargePoint and ClipperCreek are three of the companies that manufacture Level 2 chargers. Many of the public chargers are Level 2 chargers by the way.  Just to give us an idea how much they cost, a Siemens 30A Level 2 charger is sold on Amazon for $429. This is about the cheapest one that I can find. The rest of the Level 2 chargers are sold for between $500 – $600.

The problem with Level 2 chargers for home use is, owners must ensure that their wires and plugs can withstand high amperage before plugging in, the kind typically used by ovens and dryers. I have read of some Level 2 chargers that are designed to use the electricity supply for your home laundry dryer. But then again, your laundry room may not be close to where you park your car.

 

DC Fast Charging

DC Fast Chargers are the heavy weights in EV chargers. They provide a DC supply at a much higher output, ranging from 50 – 120kW. Current Tesla Superchargers can however go up to 150kW. Elon Musk in Dec 2016 tweeted about 350kW (or maybe even higher) off-grid superchargers being developed.

Only cars that are fitted with DC Quick Charge (DCQC) technology can be charged with a DC charger.

DCQC technology comes in 3 standards,

  1. CHAdeMO
  2. Combined Charging System (CCS)
  3. Superchargers by Tesla

CHAdeMO standard has charge speeds of between 40 – 60 kW but can potentially go up to 100kW in the near future. CCS on the other hand can theoretically go as high as 350kW. The Tesla Supercharger is already pushing boundaries by testing at 350kW.

Which standard to use depends on the car manufacturer but both CHAdeMO and CCS charging are usually provided at the same charging station. Superchargers on the other hand are proprietary to Tesla.

DC Fast Chargers are perhaps never installed for home use. The high voltage source it needs, the very high amperage wires needed for the charger and the cost of a DC charger makes it simply unreachable for the average EV owner. However, when you buy an EV like Nissan or Tesla, it usually comes with a membership for fast charging in its nationwide DC Charger network.

What Is Next?

I guess pushing boundaries for charging speed is what most electric car manufacturers are focused on and for good reasons. Faster charging, a bigger and denser charging network, and cars with greater ranges will certainly convince car lovers to make the switch. The market is accelerating faster than ever before and it certainly looks promising. In the years to come, it will be interesting to see technology evolving to make owning an EV possible for everyone.

Written August 30, 2017

Electric Car Nation

With countries like the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Germany and India setting targets to end sales of petroleum in the near future, I am sure other countries will also begin to do so. Norway is currently leading the way with a target for the ban on sales of petroleum gas by 2025. Consequently, the electric car trend has to pick up to replace cars driven by the internal combustion engine. While most are optimistic about electric cars, experts warn that huge investments are still needed for infrastructure to support electric car nations.

Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, in an interview with Times Free Press suggested, “…workplaces should have one charger for every 2.5 electric cars and retail stores need one for every 20 electric cars. Highways need one every 50 to 75 miles…”. He concluded that there is a lot of gaps that still needed to be filled.

Tesla Electric Car Charging Station

The state of electric car charging stations, http://www.timesfreepress.com, August 12, 2017.

Even if workplaces, malls and other public car garages have sufficient charging points, homes should also be electric car ready to convince people that it is worth the while to embrace the electric car movement. Living in an apartment block or condominiums will probably pose the biggest problem since cars will have to share charging points.

Besides charging points, other questions are being raised about whether the electric grid is able to sustain the extra demands on it if thousands or even millions more of electric cars are hooked onto the nation’s electric supply. Interestingly, Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology is currently under study, and results suggest that the millions of small car batteries that hook onto the grid can actually act as extra power storage, thus benefiting the grid as a whole. (Click on image below to read about V2G)

V2G

Electric vehicle batteries may get much more valuable soon, http://www.Vox.com, Aug 15, 2017.

 

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we should also consider the impact of an increase in electric cars on the environment and on mankind. Disturbing reports have emerged, telling of children being exploited to do the dangerous and hazardous job of mining for cobalt. Cobalt is unfortunately a main ingredient in the production of the batteries used in electric cars. Thus, the increase in demand for electric cars will also mean an increase in the demand for such batteries which will in turn drive up the demand for cobalt. Any mining activity in itself is harmful to the ecosystem and the children who are being exploited to do the mining work are also at the losing end.

Child labor

Child miners aged four living a hell on Earth so YOU can drive an electric car: Awful human cost in squalid Congo cobalt mine that Michael Gove didn’t consider in his ‘clean’ energy crusade, http://www.dailymail.co.uk, Aug 5, 2017.

In summary, electric car nations cannot happen unless governments and businesses work together to build infrastructure and to solve social, economic and environmental issues that accompany the increase in demand for electric cars. These gaps can be solved with innovation and Research and Development. This is why, I see so much potential for entrepreneurs to contribute in this area, to make electric car nations a reality.

Following is a summary of gaps that still need to be plugged. I am sure there are more, but these will start us off on brainstorming how we can help to realize the vision for electric cars.

A) Provision of sufficient charging points in workplaces, shopping malls, and other public areas

B) Charging points for the homes, especially apartment blocks, condominiums, etc. where charging points have to be shared between residents

C) Increased research in the impact of electric cars on the electric grid

D) Increased research and development on V2G technology

E) Possibly new battery technology that does not require cobalt

F) Environmentally responsible mining of cobalt that does not violate human rights

G) Alternative power supplies e.g. solar powered cars, supply power from wind and solar energy, roads that charge cars as they drive

I am still not sure what I am going to write in my next post, but I have found many Facebook and Google Plus groups that are dedicated to electric cars. There are still many active discussions going on and I am sure I will come back with more insights by the end of this week. Have a good week ahead!

Cars for the Future

Boy, oh boy am I excited. I am starting on this entire series on cars because, I just had this conversation with my wife on buying an electric car. Our verdict, not in the next few years. Reason, it’s not like we can find an EV charging station as easily as we can find a gas station. While car manufacturers are full steam ahead with developing electric cars, the infrastructure to support it still needs some catching up to do. However, electric cars in my opinion is the future because they are clean and do not require petroleum refined from fossil fuel to power them. Fossil fuel is non-renewable by the way.

Is pollution, emission of greenhouse gases, and being a major cause for the depleting fuel sources the only problem with cars? According to the National Geographic,

“Cars consume a lot of energy before they ever make it to the open road. Automotive production leaves a giant footprint because materials like steel, rubber, glass, plastics, paints, and many more must be created before a new ride is ready to roll.”

It is also worth noting that cars sent to the junkyard contain parts that stay in the environment for a very long time. However, this problem was much alleviated because the average cars today are fitted with parts that are mostly recyclable.

These lead me to think that tackling the issue of cars and environment is more than just about reducing emissions or finding alternative energy sources. But these two seem to be the most urgent as highlighted by various sources that I have read. The electric car therefore seems to be the perfect solution at least for the near future.

However, society is not yet ready to fully embrace the electric car movement and therefore, scientists and engineers will still have to create other innovative solutions to reduce petrol car emissions and gas consumption. One of these solutions still under research by Dr. Stephen Mattingly, an associate professor of civil engineering at University of Texas Arlington, is “Smart Traffic Lights”. The whole idea is to reduce the time that cars have to stop at traffic lights which then increases fuel efficiency. Read about his work and a whole lot of other innovative solutions by clicking here.

Now, with all of these information, where do we start? Since Electric Cars seem to be the main solution, at least for the near future, I propose we start by asking ourselves, “how can the entrepreneur community help in supporting the electric car movement?” This will be my thought for the week. Until my next post, have a good week ahead!

Alternatives

It is important to understand that accusing the human race of wrong doing is the last thing I want to do. I believe that the human race is meant to advance. But, with these advancements come consequences that affect our environment. Earth needs us to slow down. I feel that finding alternatives to enable us to advance yet give planet Earth a chance to breathe is the way to go. These ways can be natural yet empowering to the people who use them.

We all know that everything lies in a balance. It is not as simple as passing laws to ban practices that affect our environment. For every decision, there are consequences, most affecting the lives of people who are directly involved with them. The ban on cars will no doubt be a positive for the environment. However, people who are affected by this decision will range from the people who produce cars to the people who use them. This is why, the Paris Climate of 2015 is so important. Instead of a blanket rule to cut high emission industries, it allows signatories to set targets for themselves to reduce carbon emissions by the year 2020.

Singapore as a small island country has pledged to reduce its emissions by 36% by 2030 while the Obama administration, committed the U.S. to reducing carbon emissions by 26 to 28% by 2025. What this means is that these countries have either to cut their major emission mechanisms such as industries and transportation. Or, the leaders of these countries could take this as an opportunity to look into alternatives such as solar power. Either or, the cost to the country is large as alternative practices could also mean cost in re-training workers. However, the future will be a positive and exciting one.

The paradigm shift here is to go beyond the traditional framework of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and to find Alternatives. We have to maintain the traditional framework because no matter how much we find better ways, if people were to waste, we still do not have a lead in this race. The inclusion of “Alternatives” to the traditional framework may very well push us decades ahead in Earth conservation.

EarthBiz was created specifically because I find great potential for Entrepreneurs to do their part for the environment. In fact, Entrepreneurs are in a powerful position to make this paradigm shift towards Alternatives. We already have Elon Musk to look up to Together, we can make planet Earth breathe easy again.