Three Squares Inc

It was great meeting @threesquaresinc at 24 Hours of Reality 2018 at Los Angeles Historic Park earlier this month. 

As it so happens, film productions have a nasty reputation for wasting and improper disposal of materials. Enter Three Sqaures Inc.! 

Each day of production they held a meeting (as seen above) where they debriefed the production crew on how to properly dispose of their waste on set. 

We also had set up 4 options for dumpsters: compost, landfill, recycling and construction/demolition (as seen in photos). At one point when I found catering dumping excess food waste (non-meat) into the landfill I asked them to use the compost bags and use the compost dumpster. They replied that they green compost bags tended to tear open while they carried them so they used garbage bags instead. I offered the idea that they could use a milk crate to transport the compost bags and thankfully they listened and the new plan worked minimizing any spillage.

It was great to have the support of Three Squares Inc to help make our set as green as humanly possible! 

Imagine if every production set were able to properly sort their waste–it would surely reduce the environmental impact of the modern entertainment industry.

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Why is Plastic Non-biodegradable?

Most plastic is manufactured from petroleum the end product of a few million years of natural decay of once-living organisms. Petroleum’s main components come from lipids that were first assembled long ago in those organisms’ cells. So the question is, if petroleum-derived plastic comes from biomaterial, why doesn’t it biodegrade?

A crucial manufacturing step turns petroleum into a material unrecognized by the organisms that normally break organic matter down.

Most plastics are derived from propylene, a simple chemical component of petroleum. When heated up in the presence of a catalyst, individual chemical units monomers of propylene link together by forming extremely strong carbon-carbon bonds with each other. This results in polymers long chains of monomers called polypropylene.

“Nature doesn’t make things like that,” said Kenneth Peters, an organic geochemist at Stanford University, “so organisms have never seen that before.”

The organisms that decompose organic matter the ones that start turning your apple brown the instant you cut it open “have evolved over billions of years to attack certain types of bonds that are common in nature,” Peters told Life’s Little Mysteries.

“For example, they can very quickly break down polysaccharides to get sugar. They can chew up wood. But they see a polypropylene with all its carbon-carbon bonds, and they don’t normally break something like that down so there aren’t metabolic pathways to do it,” he said.

But if all you have to do to make propylene subunits turn into polypropylene is heat them up, why doesn’t nature ever build polypropylene molecules?

According to Peters, it’s because the carbon-carbon bonds in polypropylene require too much energy to make, so nature chooses other alternatives for holding together large molecules. “It’s easier for organisms to synthesize peptide bonds than carbon-carbon bonds,” he said. Peptide bonds, which link carbon to nitrogen, are found in proteins and many other organic molecules.

Environmentalists might wonder why plastic manufacturers don’t use peptide bonds to build polymers rather than carbon-carbon bonds, so that they’ll biodegrade rather than lasting forever in a landfill . Unfortunately, while peptide bonds would produce plastics that biodegrade, they would also have a very short shelf life. “It’s an issue of ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too,'” said Jim Coleman, chief scientist at the US Geological Survey Energy Resources Program. “When you buy a plastic jar of mayonnaise, you want [the jar] to last a few months.” You don’t want it to start decomposing before you’ve finished the mayo inside.

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[Photo Credit: Antonio Oquias | Dreamstime]