August 23, 2012
by Peggy
Comments Off on Know Your Plastics: #1 PET

Know Your Plastics: #1 PET

Plastic #1.  PET or PETE, sometimes now also rPET (containing some recycled content) is short for Polyethylene Terephthalate.  Most plastic soda and water bottles are made of PET, as are many food containers.  Although ten U.S. states have bottle deposit … Continue reading

Bottled Water on the Rebound?

May 22, 2012 by Peggy | Comments Off on Bottled Water on the Rebound?

National Geographic published an article this week on bottled water sales in the U.S.

The shocker is that bottled water sales are starting to pick up again, after a few years of decline.  Last year (2011) bottled water sales reached 9.1 billion gallons– over 29 gallons for every U.S. citizen– for which we paid $21.7 billion. Hard to believe we fork over that kind of money for something that’s practically free from the tap.

In recent years there has been a grassroots effort to call attention to the fact that the bottled water industry is bad for people and the planet. The big three bottled water companies, Coke, Pepsi and Nestle, want us to believe that drinking bottled water is better for us than drinking tap water, even though bottled water is often just tap water dressed in a PET package.  It’s packaged for our convenience (and their profits), but not for our health (see our post on chemicals that leach from packaging) or the long-term health of the planet (see this Ted Talk by Capt. Charles Moore on the problem of plastic pollution).

Here’s a basic review of the argument against bottled water  from Annie Leonard:

But at the same time bottled water sales seem to be picking up, opposition to any such trend is growing as well. A number of universities and local governments are rejecting bottled water. Loyola University in Chicago recently banned the sale of bottled water on its campus, stating in its press release, “We feel that safe and accessible water is a fundamental human right and must not be handled in ways that put profits over people.”

Avoid plastic-packaged water–costly to both pocket book and environment– and support protection of native water resources for all. #BYOR!


May 2, 2012
by Peggy
Comments Off on How to get to Zero Waste

How to get to Zero Waste

Most of us have heard the term “zero waste” by now, but some may wonder what it actually means. Zero waste means living in such a way that you create (almost) no trash. According to Edward Humes, author of Garbology, … Continue reading

April 30, 2012
by Peggy
Comments Off on More on Food Packaging

More on Food Packaging

We posted recently on endocrine disrupting chemicals that reach us through food and beverage packaging. It’s not really news.  And it’s not just  a few endocrine disrupting chemicals that are a concern. Back in 2010, Environmental Health News featured an … Continue reading

April 10, 2012
by Peggy
1 Comment

FDA Holds Off On Final BPA Decision

Recently we posted about new research on endocrine disruptors  and urged our readers to sign a petition circulated by Environmental Working Group to encourage the FDA to ban the chemical BPA (bisphenol A) from food packaging. The FDA was required … Continue reading

March 30, 2012
by Peggy

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Common in Packaging for Food and Drink

One of our biggest concerns is the array of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis, much of it from the disposable packaging in which prepared foods and commercial beverages are provided. A recent interview on NPR’s Living … Continue reading

How Green are Bioplastics?

March 22, 2012 by Peggy | Comments Off on How Green are Bioplastics?

Conventional plastics are made from fossil fuels– oil and gas.

By contrast, the raw material for bioplastics is plants, so bioplastics are made from renewable resources, and they are also potentially biodegradable and non-toxic.  The most common source for bioplastics right now is polylactic acid (PLA) from corn. But other plant sources in use include bagasse (sugar cane fiber), soybeans, and potatos. Here is an interesting video about how PLA is made:

(Warning: Inexplicably this video describes corn plastic as edible…please don’t try this at home!)

For the most part bioplastics look and act like conventional plastics (PLA does not hold up well to heat, so can’t be used to contain things like soup), but bioplastics cannot be recycled like some petroleum based plastics. And bioplastics will contaminate traditional plastics if accidentally mixed with them, which makes them problematic for recyclers.

Compostable Corn Based Cup

Image: Bec, couresy Flickr (via Scientific American)

Because bioplastics look just like regular plastic, they are hard to sort out, and you’ll get no help by looking for a resin code.  At present, bioplastics fall under the #7 plastics resin code, which is a catchall category for many types of plastic, including  petro-plastics.  Considering that bioplastics like PLA are much more common nowadays, it’s amazing that they don’t as yet have any recycling code or other required features that would help consumers or recyclers distinguish them.

Bioplastics are also a big problem for composters, because while they are theoretically compostable, many of them do not biodegrade on the same timetable as organics like food and yard waste, even in a commercial composting facility.   A recent article in the San Anselmo/Fairfax (CA) Patch investigated the real world state of bioplastics management in Marin County.  While many citizens had been feeling pleased and proud about adopting bioplastic foodware, the sad fact is that bioplastics have to be screened out of Marin’s composting facilities and landfilled.  They simply don’t biodegrade in 30 days in a windrow. Even San Francisco’s commercial composting facility, Jepson Prairie Organics, which has a more intensive process, can’t compost all incoming bioplastics.

And bioplastics are a big problem for those concerned with environmental health, too. Why? Because manufacturers are secretive about the composition of their products.  So long as bioplastic recipes remain proprietary, there will be concerns about what chemical additives may be going into the product, and thence to the compost.  The whole point of creating compost, after all, is to make a useful soil amendment that is safe, and actually benefits, rather than impedes, plant growth.

Two other concerns about bioplastics from corn arise.  First, should we be using corn or any other food crop for bioplastics when corn can help feed a starving world?  And second, would growing corn as a feedstock for plastics drive the production of  even more herbicide- reliant GMO/monoculture corn?

Adding to the perplexity are products billed as bioplastics that are plant and petro hybrids or ethanol-based plastics, like Coke’s PlantBottle. Though they sound promising, these products fall far short of being good for the environment. More on the PlantBottle in my next post.

March 10, 2012
by Peggy

Confusion Over “Green” Plastics Abounds

Everywhere you look, packaging and products proclaim they are green. But unfortunately the claims are often untrue.  There are two categories that are especially confusing to consumers: conventional fossil fuel plastics claiming that they are in some way eco-friendly, perhaps … Continue reading