Our team consists of over 150 years of experience in so many industries, we’ve lost count. Read their takes on important conversations and topics below.

Blog post featured image.

What are nanoplastics? An engineer explains concerns about particles too small to see.

Microplastics – little bits of plastic, smaller than a pencil eraser – are turning up everywhere and in everything, including the ocean, farmland, food and human bodies. Now a new term is gaining attention: nanoplastics. These particles are even tinier than microplastics, and that's a huge problem.

It’s become common to read that microplastics – little bits of plastic, smaller than a pencil eraser – are turning up everywhere and in everything, including the ocean, farmland, food and human bodies. Now a new term is gaining attention: nanoplastics. These particles are even tinier than microplastics – so small that they’re invisible to the naked eye.

Nanoplastics are a type of microplastic, distinguished by their extremely small size. Microplastics are usually less than 5 millimeters across; nanoplastics are between 1 and 1,000 nanometers across. For comparison, an average human hair is roughly 80,000-100,000 nanometers wide.

Nanoplastics are attracting growing concern thanks to recent technological advances that have made researchers more able to detect and analyze them. Their smaller size means that they are more easily transported over long distances and into more diverse environments than microplastics. They can more easily penetrate cells and tissues in living organisms, which could lead to different and more acute toxicological effects.

Studies in the past two years have found nanoplastics in human blood, in liver and lung cells, and in reproductive tissues such as the placenta and the testes. Around the world, nanoplastics have been found in the air, in seawater, in snow and in soil.

We already know that microplastics are present from the heights of Mount  Everest to deep ocean trenches. Now there is growing evidence that nanoplastics are more prevalent than larger microplastics in the environment.

Where they come from and where they go

Nanoplastics are created when everyday products such as clothes, food and beverage packaging, home furnishings, plastic bags, toys and toiletries degrade. This can be caused by environmental factors such as sunlight or wear and tear from mechanical action. Many personal care products, such as scrubs and shampoos, can also release nanoplastics.

Like larger plastic particles, nanoplastics can come from a variety of polymer types, including polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride. Because plastic products are widely used, it is hard to avoid nanoplastics in our daily lives.

When plastics reach the nanoscale, they present unique questions and challenges because of their tiny size and varying surface properties and composition. Since nanoplastics are small, they can easily penetrate cells and tissues that larger particles cannot. If they accumulate within living organisms, they could potentially cause adverse biological effects.

Graphic comparing size of nano- and microplastic fragments to a virus, smoke particle, grain of salt, human hair and pencil tip
Nanoplastics are several orders of magnitude smaller than microplastics. Center for International Environmental Law, CC BY-ND

The fate of nanoplastics in the environment is an ongoing research topic. Scientists don’t know yet whether nanoplastics further degrade in various environments into smaller particles, or into polymers, which are their basic building blocks – large molecules made of many small molecules strung together.

Detecting nanoplastics

Finding nanoplastics is challenging because they are so tiny and have diverse chemical compositions and structures. Researchers are refining different approaches for detecting nanoplastics, using techniques including Raman spectroscopy, chromatography and mass spectrometry. These methods can see the shapes and analyze the properties of nanoplastic particles.

In a 2024 study, researchers from Columbia University presented a new technology that was able to see and count nanoplastics in bottled water with high sensitivity and specificity. Unlike previous studies that could detect only a limited amount of nanoplastic particles, this study found that each liter of bottled water that was analyzed contained more than 100,000 plastic particles, most of which were nanoplastics.

A scientist looks at a computer screen that shows an enlarged red area.
Columbia University physical chemist Naixin Qian zooms in on an image generated from a microscope scan, with nanoplastics appearing as bright red spots. AP Photo/Mary Conlon

More studies need to be done before scientists can conclude whether all bottled water contains nanoplastics. But this new technique opens the door for further research.

Are nanoplastic particles toxic?

The toxicity of nanoplastics is another field of ongoing research. Some studies have suggested that these particles could pose significant risks to ecosystems and human health. One recent study suggested that they may be a risk factor for heart disease.

Another concern is that chemical pollutants, heavy metals and pathogens may stick to nanoplastics and become concentrated in the environment. This process could potentially expose living organisms to high concentrations of these harmful substances.

Nanoplastics clearly are a part of modern environments, but scientists need more research and information to understand what kinds of threats they could pose. As toxicologists often say, “The dose makes the poison.” In other words, actual exposure matters a lot. It is difficult to assess toxicity without knowing actual concentrations.

It is well known that larger plastic debris can fragment into nanoplastics, but there is much to learn about how these fragments degrade further. Researchers are working to detect and understand nanoplastics across many environments so that they can develop effective strategies to manage and mitigate these materials’ effects on people and the planet.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

Blog post featured image.

The Race to Zero: Keeping 1.5 Alive

COP26 has officially wrapped. A lot happened in two weeks, some step forwards and some steps back. Our team decided to recap highlights what really stood out to us.

The 26th annual COP concluded earlier this month and we wanted to highlight some of our takeaways from this historical conference.

Why was COP26 so important?

We are at a critical time in the fight against climate change. With temperatures currently sitting at 1.1℃ warmer than pre-industrial levels, it was undeniably important that world leaders came together to find ways to keep 1.5℃ alive through negotiations, commitments and pledges. Science proves that if our world warms past 1.5℃, there will be catastrophic and irreversible events. COP26 was also the first ratchet marker for nations who all agreed at COP21 (Paris) to re-evaluate their efforts every five years.

What were the results of COP26?

People have praised and criticized the outcomes of COP26 - however, one major result was the Glasgow Climate Pact. Similar to the Paris Accord, the Glasgow Climate Pact is an agreement based on two weeks of intense negotiations between 197 nations and organizations. The agreement includes the commitment to phase down (more on that below) the use of unabated coal, the consensus to re-visit climate action plans at COP27 with more aggressive targets, larger financial commitments from developed countries, and many other pledges from world leaders.

Although COP26 was the most aggressive form of COP talks since their inception, Climate Action Tracker shows that even if all COP26 commitments were executed the world is still on track to warm by 2.1℃.

Below we've outlined five takeaways that stood out to our team from the conference.

1. Coal power needs to be signed to history, but it wasn't

Coal is the single largest contributor to global warming. According to the End Coal Organization, burning coal is responsible for 46% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and accounts for 72% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the electricity sector.

COP26 was the first time coal was named in an official COP declaration, it was the first time countries listed a fossil fuel as a major contributor to global warming and signifies that science took the forefront of discussions at COP26. This was a huge step in the right direction but more action needs to be taken.

At the end of COP26, there was a last-minute phrase change that switched "phasing OUT" coal with "phasing DOWN". Both India and China opposed the original wording.

The consensus is the world needs to transition to a clean and renewable energy economy but there need to be market and investment incentives to do so.

Commitments made at COP26:

  • Leaders agreed to end funding to coal projects overseas.
  • 25 countries/public finance institutions committed to ending funding to fossil fuel energy projects by 2022 freeing up $17.8 billion a year for clean energy transitions.
  • 40 leaders support the Break Through Agenda, representing more than 70% of the world economy. The Break Through Agenda sees countries/businesses coordinate their climate action each year to scale up the development and deployment of clean technology.
  • 190 countries and organizations agreed to eliminate coal power.
  • 23 countries made new commitments to phase out coal power including 5 of the world's top 20 coal-powered generators.
  • 28 new countries commit to building no new coal plants, matching commitments made in the last few years from other countries.

2. Countries pledge to halt deforestation & restore our forests

There are many reasons why we need to prioritize halting deforestation. First, releasing CO₂ has the same effect on global warming no matter it comes from, whether it's from extracting fossil fuels or cutting down forests. Second, forests absorb and store CO₂! PNAS estimates that forests absorb up to 20% of emissions from the atmosphere each year.

Commitments made at COP26:

  • Over 100 leaders, from countries that account for 85% of the world's forests, committed to halt and reverse forest loss/land degradation by 2030 and pledge USD $19.2 billion of public and private funds.
  • 28 countries pledged to remove deforestation from the global trade of food and other agricultural products such as palm oil, soya and cocoa.
  • Fund of USD $1.4 billion to be established to protect the Congo Basin, the world's second-largest tropical rainforest.
  • 30+ of the world's biggest financial companies have promised to end investment in activities linked to deforestation.

3. Climate adaptation for developing countries takes the spotlight

Simply put, climate adaptation means adapting our lives, behaviours and systems to protect our families, economies and our planet from the effects of climate change.

Climate adaptation can be pricey, especially for developing countries, so it's become essential that climate change funds work to reduce global warming and help ready individuals, businesses and countries for the life-threatening impacts of climate change (i.e. drought, wildfires, flooding, rising sea levels, etc.).

Although there were significant pledges made at COP26, one major concern is that there still isn't a program for hard-hit countries to receive financial aid for climate change losses and damages that occur as a result of actions, or non-actions, by major polluters countries like the USA and China.

Commitments made at COP26:

  • The Glasgow Pact declared a goal of doubling the annual financial contribution for adaptation, from developed countries to developing countries, by 2025.
  • Over USD $450 million was announced for locally-led adaptation approaches and USD $356 million was pledged to the Adaptation Fund.
  • Donors pledge USD $413 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund, which is the only climate resilience fund that exclusively targets least developed countries.
  • Creation of Glasgow Dialogue, a task force designed to discuss future funding for a Loss and Damage Facility, which would provide financial assistance to countries suffering climate change impact due to big polluter countries.

4. Developed countries commit to actually deliver on financial promises

Climate change comes with a big price tag. One of the top goals for COP26 was how to mobilize finances from developed countries to countries that desperately need funds as they transition to a clean economy and prepare for the impacts of global warming (adaptation).

At COP15, developed countries pledged to mobilize USD $100 billion a year for developing countries by 2020, but this goal has not been met. In 2019, only around USD $80 million was sent to developing countries, up from USD $78 billion in 2018.

Commitments made at COP26:

  • New financial commitments towards adaptation and the USD $100 billion-a-year goal from Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden each worth more than USD $500 million per year by 2025.
  • New climate financing commitments from the United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Australia, Norway, Ireland and Luxembourg towards the USD $100 billion a year goal.
  • Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance was established for combating difficulties in securing climate finances which received USD $100 million in financing.
  • Major commitments include Norway tripling its adaptation finance, Japan and Australia doubling their adaptation finance, and commitments from Switzerland, the US and Canada for the Adaptation Fund.
  • USD $8.5 billion will be made available over the next 3-5 years to support South Africa's transition to clean energy.
  • Announcement of the launch of Climate Investment Funds’ Capital Markets Mechanism (CCMM), which will boost investments in the clean energy transition.

5. Holding everyone accountable, checking in annually

COP26 was the first ratchet for nations post-COP21 that required updated climate plans from countries every five years, as outlined in the Paris Agreement. However, at COP26 world leaders agreed to launch an ANNUAL checkpoint process moving forward, rather than every five years. This signals a global understanding of the urgency to keep each other accountable and the need to revisit and increase efforts yearly if needed. This annual process will include detailed reporting, which will be peer-reviewed, and the requirement to increase NDCs (pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change) if they are too weak.

A new international board was also instated. The International Sustainability Standard Board will develop a comprehensive global baseline for sustainability reporting so everyone is on the same page.

World leaders also agreed to adopt the Enhanced Transparency Framework under the Paris Agreement that will see ALL countries reporting their national emissions and their progress towards achieving their NDCs every two years after 2024.

So many pledges made, so many 'agreements' signed, but what now? While COP26 had an urgency to it and the general consensus is we are headed in the right direction, the gap to make substantial change is quickly deteriorating. The time to take concrete action is now!

We understand the urgent need to change the way items around the world are extracted, produced and discarded in order to keep 1.5℃ alive. That's why our products and solutions are designed to have an immediate impact while supporting goals for long-term change. At Smart Plastic, we aren't promising solutions for 5, 10 or 20 years down the line. We're delivering tangible, sustainable products NOW.


Blog post featured image.

49% of women's clothing by major brands are made from virgin plastics

Nearly half of of women's clothes for sale on some of the leading online websites are made entirely from new plastics, according to a study.

The BBC writes on June 11, 2021, Half of fast fashion made of new plastics, finds report.

Research completed by Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) found on average 49% of clothing made by Boohoo, Prettylittlething, Missguided and Asos were made of polyester, acrylic, nylon and elastane, with only 3% of those clothes containing recycled plastics.

Blog post featured image.

Scientists recreate "spider silk" as a scalable plastic alternative

Researchers have created a plant-based, sustainable, scalable material that could replace single-use plastics in many consumer products.

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News writes: Plant-Based, Sustainable, Scalable “Spider Silk” Provides Plastic Alternative.

The strongest material on the planet, spider silk, is the inspiration behind a new plant-based plastic alternative, removing the challenges that come with the micro and nano structures of traditional plant-based plastic. This new, energy efficient method mimics spider silk on a molecular level and will result in a plastic-like free-standing film that can be composted at home.

Blog post featured image.

Companies enabling supply chains with sustainable pallets

The companies that make, sell or rent pallets are working harder than ever to help customers achieve their supply chain sustainability goals.

Bridget McCrea writes for Modern Materials Handling in Supporting the world’s sustainability goals, one pallet at a time:

Pallets are often shared among companies, given a “second life” as retail store fixtures, and often pilfered, only to be yet again reused by the thieves that lifted them. Pallets are also active participants in the circular economy, a system aimed at eliminating waste and continually reusing resources.

End consumers are demanding more transparency when it comes to sustainability measures taken by large-scale organizations. To keep up with this demand and to support sustainable change in supply chains, companies like ORBIS, Litco International and PECO Pallets are implementing circular economy tactics when it comes to creating and recycling pallets.

Blog post featured image.

Dave Ford, Executive Director of Ocean Plastics Leadership Network, writes:

Solving the plastic crisis is urgent. An estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans each year. That’s a garbage truck and a half of plastic every minute of every day. If we delay dramatic action by just five years, an additional 80 million metric tons of plastic will end up in the ocean by 2040 (250 Empire State Buildings worth of trash). Without action, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, by weight.

Led by the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network in partnership with WWF and Greenpeace, this two day event garnered support for a global treaty that would be ambitious enough to match the scale and urgency of the plastic waste problem. Read the four key take aways from the virtual event over on GreenBiz.

Blog post featured image.

How Lego Perfected the Recycled Plastic Brick

After 72 years and billions of interlocking polymer toy bricks, the company finally has an eco-friendly alternative.

Jeremy White writing for Wired:

Each year, more than 380 million metric tons of plastic is produced worldwide. Lego is responsible for 100,000 metric tons of it. This contribution to the annual total is, of course, the result of making its classic children’s toy. Lego’s impact may initially appear to be a sliver of that plastic output, but it still counts. Why? That 100,000 metric tons of polymer was last year turned into 110 billion bricks.

Back in 2015, kids' toys conglomerate Lego announced it would be investing a large sum into a Sustainable Materials Center. Six years later and after testing over 250 PET materials, Lego has confirmed a suitable PET plastic alternative produced from discarded bottles. This discovery, made by a team of 150, is the first brick made from a recycled material that meets most of Lego’s requirements for its standard ABS bricks.

Blog post featured image.

Global Plastic Pollution May Be Nearing an Irreversible Tipping Point

Plastic is found everywhere on the planet: from deserts and mountaintops to deep oceans and Arctic snow.

Stockholm University writing for SciTechDaily:

Current rates of plastic emissions globally may trigger effects that we will not be able to reverse, argues a new study by researchers from Sweden, Norway and Germany published on July 2nd in Science. According to the authors, plastic pollution is a global threat, and actions to drastically reduce emissions of plastic to the environment are “the rational policy response.”

If the world continues on the same path, the amount of plastic dumped in our water ways is expect to double by 2025. We are on the verge of an irreversible tipping point according to a new study by researchers from Sweden, Norway and Germany, and our current waste management systems are no longer adequate to handle the amount of plastic waste consumer culture produces.

Blog post featured image.

The deception of greenwashing in fast fashion

Terms such as ‘ethical’ or ‘eco-friendly’ have no legal significance and encourages lack of accountability

This recent article from DownToEarth takes a deeper look at greenwashing in the fashion industry:

The term ‘greenwashing’ was coined by environmentalist Jay Westervelt in 1986 which refers to misleading advertisements or false claims by companies that suggest they are doing more for the environment than they actually are.

Such practices deceive customers with claims that are not backed by evidence and bear social, ethical and environmental repercussions.

Have a read to learn how to identify greenwashing.

Blog post featured image.

Implementing circular business model for global brands

Moving from a linear business model to a circular takes time, effort, and trial and error. But it also has its hidden benefits.

Organizations all over the world are starting to see the necessity and potential of implementing circular business models. GreenBiz Group spoke with three companies embracing these practices at GreenBiz 21: REI, IKEA and Eileen Fisher. Whether its reusing, reselling or recycling, each company is adding one or more pillars of the circular economy to their business practices.

Shifting to a circular business model creates opportunities for companies to reach new customers, all while exciting and engaging their loyal base and having a positive impact on the planet. Check out four lessons these companies have learned from adding circular business practices below.

Make your plastic better today

Get in touch with one of our skilled team members to learn how you can revolutionize your products.