Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth

After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. But its benefits mask enormous dangers to the planet, to human health – and to culture itself

Taking in all stages of production, concrete is said to be responsible for 4-8% of the world’s CO2. Among materials, only coal, oil and gas are a greater source of greenhouse gases. Half of concrete’s CO2 emissions are created during the manufacture of clinker, the most-energy intensive part of the cement-making process.

But other environmental impacts are far less well understood. Concrete is a thirsty behemoth, sucking up almost a 10th of the world’s industrial water use. This often strains supplies for drinking and irrigation, because 75% of this consumption is in drought and water-stressed regions. In cities, concrete also adds to the heat-island effect by absorbing the warmth of the sun and trapping gases from car exhausts and air-conditioner units – though it is, at least, better than darker asphalt.

It also worsens the problem of silicosis and other respiratory diseases. The dust from wind-blown stocks and mixers contributes as much as 10% of the coarse particulate matter that chokes Delhi, where researchers found in 2015that the air pollution index at all of the 19 biggest construction sites exceeded safe levels by at least three times. Limestone quarries and cement factories are also often pollution sources, along with the trucks that ferry materials between them and building sites. At this scale, even the acquisition of sand can be catastrophic – destroying so many of the world’s beaches and river courses that this form of mining is now increasingly run by organised crime gangs and associated with murderous violence.

Plastic Water Bottles, Which Enabled a Drinks Boom, Now Threaten a Crisis

The industry has tried and failed for years to make a better bottle.

Existing recycling technology needs clean, clear plastic to make new water bottles, and bottled-water companies say low recycling rates and a lack of infrastructure have stymied supply. Danone, for its part, is betting the reputation of its flagship water brand on a new technology that claims to turn old plastic from things like dirty carpets and sticky ketchup bottles into plastic suitable for new water bottles.

.. Plastic drink bottles are the third most common type of item found washed up on shorelines—behind cigarette butts and food wrappers

..  PepsiCo Inc. in August agreed to buy SodaStream—a maker of countertop machines that carbonate tap water—saying the $3.2 billion deal would help it go “beyond the bottle.”

.. Pepsi also now sells reusable water bottles that come with capsules to add flavors, and is testing stations in the U.S. that dispense Aquafina-branded water in different flavors.

.. Poland Spring-owner Nestlé is rolling out glass and aluminum packaging for some brands and researching ways to make all its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.“The importance of this now has sunk in,” said Beverage Marketing Corp.’s Chairman Michael Bellas, who has followed the drinks industry for the past 46 years. “It’s the total broadened awareness of the environment, especially with millennials.”

.. Still, executives aren’t looking to get rid of plastic, which is cheap, robust and lightweight. A former Nestlé executive said the company’s internal research showed consumers were unlikely to take to boxed water. Glass bottles, meanwhile, break easily and are expensive to transport because they are heavy.

“It’s tempting to romanticize a world without packaging,” Coca-ColaCo. CEO James Quincey wrote in a blog post this year. “Modern food and beverage containers help reduce food spoilage and waste. They limit the spread of disease.”

.. the challenge has been to find a recycled product that meets regulatory standards for food-grade PET plastic, which is used in bottles. So far, the industry has relied on a recycling method that washes, chops and melts waste plastic to create resin. Most of it gets turned into clothes and carpets since plastic loses some of its structural properties and becomes discolored with each recycle, diminishing the appeal to bottled-water makers.
A Montreal-based startup, Loop Industries Inc., had developed a process to break plastic into its base ingredients. The process didn’t use heat or pressure, so contaminants didn’t melt into the plastic and could be filtered out. Daniel Solomita, Loop’s CEO, likened it to disassembling a chocolate cake into its ingredients—sugar, flour, chocolate, eggs and butter—to make a brand new cake.

.. Mr. Dever and Danone executives had the process tested at Loop’s pilot plant—bringing their own waste plastic secretly tagged with a tracer to make sure that the returned samples were of the same material.

.. Loop has yet to scale up its technology, and the company said its production plant won’t be ready until 2020. Loop shares, listed on Nasdaq, are down about 50% this year. Danone said it has confidence in Loop’s technology. Loop has also signed supply deals with Pepsi and Coca-Cola’s European bottler.

.. Less than a third of PET bottles sold in the U.S. are collected for recycling, with less than 1% processed into food-grade plastic, according to Pepsi, one of the biggest buyers. The bottled-water industry says using more recycled plastic in bottles will incentivize collection of old bottles by giving them value.
.. Danone, like much of the industry, has made promises about using recycled material before only to break them. A decade ago it pledged to use 50% recycled plastic in its water bottles by 2009. The very next year it slashed that target to between 20%-30% by 2011. Today, just 14% of the plastic in the bottles across its brands is recycled material.
.. Nestlé’s plastic water bottles use just 5% recycled material in Europe and 7% in the U.S., while Coca-Cola’s use 10%. Pepsi says it uses 9% in bottles in the U.S. and 16% in Europe.
.. In 2009, Nestlé launched a bottle made of 25% recycled plastic at Whole Foods but later scrapped it. Danone yanked a Volvic bottle made partly from biobased plastic after consumers paid little attention.
.. Danone sought to be more ambitious with Evian. “Once we put ourselves in consumers’ shoes we realized 25% or 50% doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Mr. Chauvelot. “What makes sense to the consumer is 100%.”
.. Evian rolled out in the U.S. in the late 1970s, wooing health-conscious Americans with splashy ads playing up the benefits of hydration. By 1999, helped by clever product placement among models and athletes, Evian was the world’s No. 1 bottled-water brand and the U.S. market leader by sales, according to company filings.
.. Then a flood of competitors, including mass-market offerings such as Coca-Cola’s Dasani and upscale brands such as Fiji, grabbed share. Evian’s U.S. volumes plunged to 29 million gallons last year from 69 million in 2000,

.. Danone said marketing about the recycling plan helped Evian sales climb 6% in the first nine months of the year.
.. The fastest of 10 lines can produce 72,000 bottles an hour. The plant has the capacity to make two billion bottles a year.
.. To hit its recycling goal, Evian hopes to take deliveries of Loop-branded plastics at the factory by 2020. It is also talking to other potential suppliers. “We have a backup plan for sure,”

Richard Rohr: Taoism and Buddhism

Five hundred years before Jesus, Taoists taught passive resistance, a crucial element of world-changing modern spiritual activists such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. The ancient masters revealed how to be steadfast and supple, like water—flowing rather than fixed, rigid, or static—which is of great benefit, for water is stronger than even stone: water’s constant flow will eventually wear anything down and carry everything away. Like the underlying continuum of reality, the great Tao is groundless and boundless; it is flowing, dynamic, yet unmoved amidst infinite change. “Yield and overcome, and you cannot be broken,” they taught.