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!


April 17, 2012
by Peggy
1 Comment

Litter Leader: Cigarette Butts

The Ocean Conservancy’s recent inventory of coastal litter highlights the high number of plastic discards found along our shorelines.  The leading item collected in 2011 on Coastal Cleanup Day–but it could be any day– was cigarette butts, which are made … 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

Ocean Conservancy Coastal Cleanup Tally

March 28, 2012 by Peggy | Comments Off on Ocean Conservancy Coastal Cleanup Tally

The Ocean Conservancy has released its report on 2011’s one-day Coastal Cleanup. A huge amount of the trash recovered was plastics, the leading offenders (after cigarette butts)  being disposable to-go packaging– plastic bottles, caps and lids, bags, containers and wraps. Here is a snapshot of the trash collected on September 24, 2011:

International Coastal Cleanup Graph: Top 10 Items Found

via: Ocean Conservancy



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

What’s Up at Coke? Positive PR Undermined by Corporate Bullying

November 27, 2011 by Peggy | Comments Off on What’s Up at Coke? Positive PR Undermined by Corporate Bullying

Coca-Cola BottleCoke has been in the news recently because of positive PR on recycling and fund raising on behalf of the polar bear, but they’ve garnered equal if not greater attention for throwing their weight around to block public awareness of the mess their eternal, infernal plastic bottles create.

Coke announced this month that they will recycle every clear plastic (PETE) bottle collected at the London Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012.  That’s great!  The Olympics is obviously a fabulous venue for them to call attention to the good things they can do.

At virtually the same time, however, Coke got nailed for coming down hard on 19 Entertainment, producers of the hit TV show American Idol, because Idol arranged for their top singer/contestants from Season 10 to record a public service announcement for Plastic Pollution Coalition.

The message of the PSA is to refuse single-use plastics—that would be plastic bags, plastic cups, plastic straws and although not called out here, plastic bottles as well.  Apparently a certain VIP American Idol sponsor didn’t like the message, and has demanded that 19 Entertainment make the Plastic Pollution Coalition take the PSA down.

Coke has also just launched their holiday season marketing with a cute white Arctic motif to help raise funds for the critically endangered polar bear.  Coke has already donated $2 million to the World Wildlife Fund,  and from November 1 to March 15th, if you text a code on the product packaging, you can donate $1 to the WWF, which will be matched by Coke up to an additional $1 million.  That’s great!

At virtually the same time, however, Coke was quashing the Grand Canyon’s efforts to ban plastic water bottles in the park.  Although plastic water bottles account for 30% of the waste generated at the Grand Canyon (and a large percentage of the litter as well), the proposed water bottle ban was squelched by major National Park Foundation sponsor Coke, presumably because sales of their bottled water, Dasani, would have been directly impacted.

In light of Coca-Cola’s schizophrenic behavior on environmental issues, do you think Coke’s positive efforts are mere green washing, or do you think they are going through a rough transition to a new level of corporate responsibility?

UPDATE:  Grand Canyon National Park announced on February 6, 2012 that it would “eliminate the in-park sale of water packaged in individual disposable containers within 30 days.”  Parks Director Jonathan Jarvis said of the change:

This is another example of The National Park Service’s commitment to being an exemplar of the ways we can all reduce our imprint on the land as we embrace sustainable practices that will protect the parks for generations to come.