Sunday, January 9, 2011

Two Ideas for Sustainability

Biodegradable plastics

Biodegradable plastics are plastics that will decompose in any composting or landfill environment. They can either be made of renewable raw materials, or petroleum-based plastics which, with heat and moisture, neutralize the plastic. They are mostly used for things such as plastic forks, knives, etc, or plastic wrap for packaging fresh organic products.
I think this idea is quite brilliant- the only issue is that when the plastics are decomposing, the carbon is released as greenhouse gases. Though, when they are made from natural resources (such as corn, tapioca), the net gain is leveled out at 0.
Perhaps one day in the future we will be able to develop a bacteria that eats plastics, such as we have done with nylon. A few horror novels and movies were written based on the ideas of a plastic-eating bacteria rampaging about a city.
Something recent that I want to bring up involving plastic bags is the plastic bag fee. Our new Mayor Ford is suggesting eliminating it. On one hand, this seems like a totally stupid idea and taking two steps back in our search of sustainability. On the other hand, the money was not going toward anything- the retailers keep it. In a perfect world, we would keep the plastic bag fee, but send the money to the city instead of the retailers, and use it right back for environmental purposes. Toronto consumers use around 55 million plastic bags a week- that would be add up to about 150 million dollars every year.

Green Roofs

Living roofs provide several things for a building. They collect rainwater, provide habitats for wild animals, help with insulation and give us oxygen. There are intensive and extensive roofs, intensive requiring more care and holding more vegetation, while extensive roofs support themselves. In Toronto, a by-law requires some developments to have a green roof. I think this idea is brilliant. It will help cut down on energy requirements, clean our air and make our city more beautiful. Potentially we could even grow foods on the tops of some buildings… I think a roof without solar panels or green roofs is a waste of valuable space, especially in a city so compact!
The only disadvantage to green roofs is the high initial cost- around 15-20 dollars per square foot. This is eventually returned through saving costs in energy.

Which would work best?

Out of these two ideas, I think the later is more likely to work best. Green roofs are something that can be created all over the world for benefit for all. On the other hand, biodegradable plastics are still not yet perfect and many still create a large amount of carbon waste and take hundreds of years to bio-degrade. There is a parable that says "when to you plant the seed to grow a tree?", the answer is "ten years ago". I think if more buildings had green roofs, we could save a lot of energy and create a beautiful city.

Does sustainability have a chance?

It's hard to be sustainable in a world that needs to keep moving forward, especially when everyone people has different interests (self interest, etc). I do not know if we could create a completely sustainable society. I think it is very unlikely. I do think that we could sacrifice some pleasures and work towards a more sustainable future.

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