Here's one for the "Nothing Is Simple" file... My obsession with plastic alternatives continues, fueled by the blog My Plastic-Free Life and the growing presence on the world's radar of what plastic debris is doing to our oceans (e.g., the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and its cousin in the Atlantic).
So my ears prick up every time I hear news about a plant-based alternative to standard petroleum-based plastics. For example:
In March of this year, Coca-Cola subsidiary Odwalla will reportedly start using 96%-100% plant-based bottles (from molasses and sugarcane) for all its single-serving beverages.
Case Western Reserve University professor David Schiraldi is working on a biodegradable substance that uses casein (from milk) and a spongelike material called aerogel.
And bioplastic maker Cereplast is branching out into algae-based plastics to supplement its resins made from corn, potatoes, tapioca, and wheat.
Although biopolymers do well in terms of biodegradability, low toxicity, and use of renewable resources, they aren't so peachy on the production side, because the farming and refining required to make them tend to use lots of energy and put nasty chemicals into the environment.
A life-cycle assessment by the Pittsburgh team revealed that four common biopolymers are large contributors to ozone depletion. And two sugar-derived polymers — standard polylactic acid (PLA-G) and the type manufactured by Cargill subsidiary NatureWorks (PLA-NW), the most common sugar-based plastic in the United States — greatly contribute to eutrophication, the process by which water becomes unable to sustain life.
And here I was, all excited about the possibility of a future in which I might be able to buy things like yogurt, hummus, and lotion without wondering if the empty containers were destined to pollute the lungs of some Third World recycling worker or contribute to the ocean's chemical soup for hundreds of years. Still, I have to believe that these production problems are solvable. Especially since there's no hiding from the fact that, sooner or later, we're going to run out of oil.
I'm always amazed at how quickly November and December blow by. Life's been so crazy that I never even managed to write a holiday-consumerism-themed post.
But I have managed to think of a New Year's resolution (a two-pronged one, even!), and I'm just going to throw it up here, all quick-and-dirty-like: From now on, I will no longer buy paper towels or paper napkins. The paper industry is supposedly the third-largest contributor to global warming, and I've been rather enjoying using rags, dish towels, and Skoy cloths to clean up messes. Also, Mr. Wallet Mouth and I have some pretty cool cloth napkins (see above) that make us feel classy when we use them.
Part 2 of my resolution is to buy and consume fewer things packaged in plastic. Ever since learning that "plastic recycling" is a misnomer (plastics are actually downcycled into unrecyclable objects) and that the entire enterprise is not very green, I've been more aware of my relationship to the stuff. I even remembered to bring my stainless-steel water bottle on my holiday plane flights (hmm, speaking of global warming...) so I could say no to the plastic cup. I'm lucky to live near a grocery store that offers a wide range of bulk goods, but for some reason I haven't been in the habit of buying non-food items—things like lotion and laundry detergent—in bulk there, so this year I'm going to try to change that.
Just got a note from Greenpeace that Apple has eliminated brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride from its new iMac and Macbook. Furthermore, earlier last month, it joined other companies in leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the latter's opposition to climate-change legislation. Unlike many of its compatriots, though, Apple publicly stated why it left. Nice!
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).