Ever wonder about the recyclability of envelopes with plastic windows in them? I know some people throw them in the trash because they think the plastic renders them useless for paper recycling. I don't do that, because my understanding is that the envelopes are still recyclable, but I have always wondered why.
In her blog Fake Plastic Fish, Beth Terry sheds some light on the subject: recyclers "accept the plastic windows because they are easily separated from the paper during the pulping process, and the plastic washes away." (Of course, then, as she notes, there is that niggling little question about where "away" is.)
Another thing I didn't know is that some of those plastic windows aren't actually plastic, but specially processed paper called glassine, and that some envelope makers nowadays offer windows made of corn-based PLA, which is compostable in certain (limited) facilities but still problematic.
The internet is abuzz with consumers pissed off about bottle maker Sigg's admission that until recently its liners contained bisphenol A (BPA). The sad thing is, it dissembled about that fact for a looong time, carefully crafting language to imply the bottles were BPA-free and thereby capitalize on the scads of people getting rid of their polycarbonate vessels. Read Z Recommends' excellent reporting about it (as well as how to tell if your liner is old or new) here. Notably, some consumers who have bought Sigg bottles as recently as this month have still gotten the old liners—a testament to how long the supply-chain process can be.
The blog's follow-up post on the subject is also troubling: the supposedly better new Sigg liners have been found to chip away from the necks of the bottles, which are aluminum (cue alarm bells going off).
I have to agree with Real Green Girl: While it's good to be assured that known bad things are missing from a given product, the important issue is what's in the thing. (And frankly, if it's chipping off the inside of my bottle, I don't care what it is—I don't want it!)
As the mother of a toddler, I think diapers and toilet training when I see the letter "p" followed by a couple of "o"s. But the "poo" in "no poo" isn't Number Two; it's shampoo!
As I recently learned, there's a movement afoot to forgo lathering up your locks with store-bought stuff in favor of using various combinations of things like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice. The advantages? You keep the nasty chemicals found in numerous shampoos away from your body and the environment, you use less plastic, and you save money.
I know what some of you are thinking: "Gross!" But here are a couple women who swear by it: link, link (though this woman had less success). And here's an Instructables how-to.
I'm already a member of the Church of Not Shampooing Every Day, and I'm considering going "no poo," but I think I'll use up my current bottle first. I'll let you know what happens!
But in the meantime, if you do decide to say adios to your shampoo, don't use Arm & Hammer baking soda—apparently the company conducts some rather regrettable animal testing related to this product. (I have an email in to the company to get confirmation of this, but it seems fairly well established, as far as I can tell.) Bob's Red Mill makes a cruelty-free alternative, though for some reason it doesn't trumpet this fact.
I'm not big on beverages that require straws to drink, but if I were, I would get myself a made-in-the-USA reusable sipper from GlassDharma, the brainchild of glassblower David Leonhardt. I would also spring for a bamboo carrying case, because, well, how cool is that? (Answer: very.)
Reusable glass straws? Who woulda thunk? (Answer: more people than you might imagine; Leonhardt got the idea from a glass shop in his town.) And wouldn't a glass straw just break? Well, apparently not as easily as you'd think, because the company offers a lifetime guarantee against breakage.
That's a pretty good reason to opt for a reusable glass straw, which won't leach toxins into your beverage and won't take up space in the landfill. Granted, traditional straws probably don't represent a major percentage of the world's plastic waste, but every little bit helps. Furthermore, I have to believe that having these things in use out in the world has the potential to make observers reexamine the role that plastic plays in their lives.
Here's another case of a company changing a less-than-perfect behavior on its own just as I was starting to get a bee in my bonnet about it: We've been happily using gDiapers, which I've blogged about before, for six months now, but the other week, I noticed that the plastic packaging used for the product's flushable inserts had some misleading text on it. It said, "This Bag Is 100% Recyclable."
Um, no it's not.
Even in San Francisco's single-stream recycling system, plastic bags and films are a big no-no. And while some grocery stores accept plastic bags for recycling, the all-encompassing language in the gDiapers text was probably causing well-meaning but clueless parents to throw the bags into their curbside bins and gum up the machinery.
So I wrote gDiapers and asked what was going on. I pointed out that (as I blogged about in a recent post) the FTC's "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims" consider calling plastic garbage bags recyclable to be a deceptive claim.
I got a nice reply from gDiapers acknowledging that yes, #4 plastic are tricky and are generally not intended for curbside programs. The statement also explained that the company knows plastic bags are not ideal from an environmental standpoint and is actively searching for a cost-effective compostable alternative that can stand up to the elements.
Meanwhile, the copy on the packaging changed! (I don't claim to take any credit for it, but what a coincidence!) It now reads, "For a happy planet, please recycle in communities where available." Much better.
I just learned, via the blog Fake Plastic Fish, that not long after my post about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, another journey to the North Pacific Gyre launched, this time on a vessel made in large part of plastic bottles. Read all about the educational effort buoying it here.
And enjoy this related graphic from Klas Ernflo, via Digg:
I've been thinking about bags—and, more generally, plastic—a lot lately, and not just because of BPA.
For one thing, the final phase of San Francisco's plastic-bag ban just went into effect: as of yesterday, pharmacies can no longer hand out their heretofore fave kind of sack. For another, I just read this post
from Sightline Daily (via Terrapass's blog), which contends that the importance of the
paper vs. plastic choice is dwarfed by the choice of what you put in the bag.
That may be true in the embodied-energy sense—embodied energy being what's required to manufacture, supply to the point of use, and disassemble or dispose of something. But the unfortunate fact is that lots of bags and other plastic items never get properly disposed of (whatever that means) and instead end up polluting our oceans. A great number of them congregate in what's known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Two web videos explore that floating dump in compelling ways. The first episode of "Gorilla in the Greenhouse,"SustainLane's web-video series for kids, raises awareness about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the evils of plastic pollution at the same time as it promotes eco-consciousness and action on the part of the next generation.
For the grown-up set, there's "Garbage Island," a 12-part VBS.TV series in which a group of "non-hippie environmentalists" takes a three-week boat trip to the North Pacific Gyre to find the garbage patch and analyze its waters. What surprised them (and me as well) was that the patch is not actually a visible clump the size of Texas; rather, it's a dense accumulation of debris (the size of Texas). "I came out here expecting to see a trash dump, with pieces you could pull out of the water," the narrator says. "But what I got was an even ruder awakening. Looking out, you don't see the garbage; most of the time you just see the water. But what's in the water is 1,000 times worse than a Coke bottle. It's every part of a Coke bottle busted down into a little digestible morsel."
The plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch disintegrates into its component polymers, and those broken-down bits act as a sponge for persistent organic pollutants. The
horrifying realization is that the garbage patch represents much more than pollution; our castoffs
have actually changed the composition of the ocean, in not-so-nice ways. As the narrator puts it, "It's not a matter of pulling shit out [of the water]; it's preparing our systems for the change that's on its way. It's part of the ocean now. We've consigned ourselves to eating our own shit."
Pretty sobering stuff. In fact, you might want to watch the more-upbeat "Gorilla" afterward. That way you can imagine all the kiddies of today getting inspired, and then becoming savvy, and growing up to find ways to deal effectively with the change that's on its way.
Two BPA-themed e-newsletters just landed in my in-box. The Center for a New American Dream’s dispatch mentions a helpful site, the Bisphenol A Portal, which compiles news reports about the endocrine-disrupting chemical. Particularly helpful is the site’s Smart Plastics Guide (pdf), which breaks down what all those numbers on plastic containers mean and gives tips on how to avoid BPA.
The most recent e-newsletter from the Environmental Working Group’s points to the BPA cheatsheet on its Enviroblog. Interestingly, the central graphic used on that page is a water bottle made by Nalgene, which recently announced that it will phase out production of BPA-containing bottles.
Someone just forwarded me a great resource for parents who are concerned about all this BPA business: a blog called Z Recommends and its report on BPA in children’s feeding products, which rates makers of products such as pacifiers and sippy cups. Besides the online directory, there’s a mobile component. Just text-message “zrecs” followed by
the name of the company you’re curious about to 69866 to receive info on your
The blog points out one problem that I’d never considered: while the main functional part of any given children’s product may indeed be BPA-free, that’s not necessarily true of the item’s other parts, which are equally likely to end up in kids’ mouths. The “shield” on a pacifier, for example, isn’t meant to be sucked on, but we all know how that goes. Said shields are often made of polycarbonate plastic, which contains the endocrine-disrupting chemical.
The ratings—there are four categories, ranging from Excellent to Poor—are based on “product quality, innovation, the range of products a
company offers, their stance on BPA and their openness about sharing
information about their products.” Z Recommends also provides a list of companies whose wares are all BPA-free, so you can trust anything they make. I found it heartening that there are 30 names on that list.
Z Recommends isn’t just for parents, by the way. It’s chock-full of informative posts such as this one, which talks about Wal-Mart U.S., Nalgene, and BPA-related company claims that warrant skepticism.
Finally the mainstream media is talking about bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in many plastics, in light of a new brief by the National Toxicology Program that expresses concern over the substance. As the report puts it, “the possibility that bisphenol A may impact human development cannot be dismissed.”
It’s especially nice to see more light being shed on the fact that the FDA based its sketchy “BPA is safe” stance on two studies funded by the plastic industry [link], ignoring hundreds of government and academic studies that raised red flags about BPA.
In my recent post about the chemical, I expressed surprise to learn that it’s found not only in baby bottles but also in aluminum food cans and beverage cans and bottles. Turns out it’s in numerous other everyday objects, such as CDs, too. Today's Washington Post story on the issue quotes an overseer of the report as saying, “It’s everywhere.... Your cell phone is probably made out of it.”
Much of the focus in recent reports is on BPA’s presence in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula containers. That’s as it should be, since developing bodies are more affected by endocrine disruptors than adult bodies are.
The Washington Post story points out that BornFree, a company that makes BPA-free baby bottles, can’t keep up with demand. I don’t know about other parents, though, but I’m sticking to glass bottles. Today it’s BPA, but tomorrow...?
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).