FDR Memorial

FDR Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial - click on the image for larger view

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

PLA goes in the Waste Basket and Why You Should Bring Your Own (non plastic) Cup to the (fair trade) Coffee Shop

PLA is a form of plastic that is made from corn. Many local shops and stores now carry containers and cups made from PLA in an attempt to find a more environmentally conscious choice than conventional plastic. Regular plastic lives forever. (click here to learn more about regular plastic). PLA on the other hand is considered a compostable and biodegradable resource. It is often referred to as carbon neutral because is comes from carbon abosorbing plants. PLA can be made from wheat, beets, potatoes and corn. The current manufacturer of PLA, Natureworks, is owned by Cargill, the worlds largest corn merchant. Thus PLA is made from genetically modified corn.

There are definite upsides to
PLA. The manufacturer of PLA, Natureworks claims that producing PLA uses 65 percent less energy than producing conventional plastics and it generates 68 percent fewer greenhouse gases, and contains no toxins. Take note that PLA is considered COMPOSTABLE. This doesn't mean it will compost in your backyard compost pile. Well, it will eventually but it will take a looonnng time. In a commercial composting facility using a constant 145+ degree temperature PLA plastucs will completely compost in 45 days. There are only about 100 or so commercial composting facilities in the United States. In a landfill PLA takes anywhere from 100-1000 years to decompose. Still better than conventional plastic which NEVER goes away. Since PLA is made from corn it can be incinerated without the release of any toxic fumes.

The most important thing to know about PLA is that it is NOT RECYCLABLE. Every time someone throws a PLA cup into a plastic recycling bin it will contaminate the regular plastic recycling process. So do not put your PLA cup in the recycling bin. Your not doing Mother Earth or her inhabitants any favors by doing so. PLA when properly disposed of in the waste basket PLA is a step in the right direction but not a big enough step.

The bottom line is that consumers need to think more about the packaging that comes with all the stuff they buy. Choose products with less packaging and give your local stores and
restaurants feedback that you want less packaging. The best choice is to bring your own cup with you to the (local fair trade) coffee shop. When you have a choice, choose metal silverware instead of plastic and real plates or paper over plastic or styrofoam. If you don't have your own cup opt for paper over plastic. PLA is not the answer to plastic cups and mass consumption.

To learn more you can visit:
Corn Plastic to the Rescue, from Smithsonian.com
Alternatives to Petroleum Based Plastics

(Photo credit BEC, Courtesy Flickr)

Monday, December 15, 2008

We Make A Choice Everytime We Buy Something

I recently attended a local teach-in on Local Economy. It was wonderful to see so many great people and speakers all together showing concern for our local community and our way of life. Unfortunately the local emphasis was somewhat lost in the end on a large discussion about global policies, politics and a general feeling that the problem was so large it was akin to trying to move a mountain. Talking about the economy is talking about our money: where it goes and where it comes from. It's not a mountain. It's thousands of small individual choices that we make every single day.

The reality is that I think it is easy to fall into the habit of blaming large corporation or political policies. It is much harder to see that these larger things are supported by individuals and those individuals are us: you and I.

Someone at the teach-in mentioned that she thought the new Home Depot (in Hadley) was a good idea because we really didn't have a local store to buy these kinds of things at. I nearly fell out of my chair and in my bones I could feel the owners and employees of the several local hardware stores cringing. It's just not true.

Here in Amherst, you can buy just about ANYTHING you need within 10 miles of downtown. This summer I spent 4 months without a car taking on the mission to shop locally and buy local whenever possible. The first week I cringed thinking I was going to have to do without. By week 3, I realized I had everything I could ever need close by. The majority of the food for my family of 5 came from our local CSA, Brookfield Farms. At the farm we could also get milk from a local farm, Mapleline and other local grown and made products such as soap, cheese, honey, yogurt and apples from yet a third and forth local farm, Cold Spring Orchard and Small Ones Farm. The CSA is 7 miles away via the bike trail. So our weekly bike trip to the farm solved our food issue. Other local stores that proved to be treasures were the Local Farm Supply store, Bike shop (Hampshire Bike Exchange), Stationary Stores (AJ Hastings) and the local toy shop (The Toy Box) solved most of our other needs. We also tried to not buy and when possible to use library loans, borrowing from friends, freecycle and to buy used when possible using the Salvation Army, Freecycle, local tag sales and trading with friends. We were able to bike and walk 98% of the time while buying locally here in our community. We bought less, lived better and saved a lot more money.

We make a choice every time we buy something. When we buy something at a larger corporation rather than a local small business. When we choose to buy something made in a sweatshop vs. something made with fair labor. When we choose to buy things that are disposable and have a short life cycle vs. re-useable, recyclable long lasting things. These are all choices that reflect what is important to us.

I would like to suggest some actions to take with the help of the Better World Handbook.
1) Resist the Urge to go Shopping (visit the Church of Stop Shopping )
2) Buy less stuff
3) Treat workers with respect and courtesy
4) Buy used (think Freecycle, Recycling centers, Thrift shops, Salvation Army, Craigslist)
5) Buy durable and reusable products
6) Buy products with minimal packaging
7) Support locally owned independent businesses (visit Pioneer Valley Local First and think CSA)
8) Buy Fair Trade (visit the Fair Trade Federation)
9) Boycott irresponsible companies (visit Ethical Consumer's boycott list)
10) Let companies know how you feel
11) Buy from socially responsible companies (see the Better World Handbook)

What's the difference if I buy the stupid mop made in China at Walmart or a local store?
Obviously it would be better to buy a made in the USA or fair trade mop made entirely with recycled and recyclable materials in the first place but we know that just is not always a possibility.When we buy the plastic made in China mop at Walmart the profit margin on the mop goes to Walmart which in turns supports Walmarts poor labor policies and corporate goals to develop a monopoly by running local businesses out of town. When you buy the plastic mop at a local store the profit margin goes to a local small store owned by and employed with your neighbors. It keeps your money in your community. It sends a message that you want to have a town with locally owned stores and not a town with only a Walmart or a supermall. (As a side note locally here in Amherst we have a Big Y store which is one of the only American owned and privately owned grocery stores in the US. They are based in Springfield, MA, bring many jobs to our local economy and stock many local products and produce from local farms on their shelves. Another excellent reason we don't need or want a Walmart superstore down the road.)

Why Buy Made in the USA or Fair Trade
When you buy goods made in the United States you send a message that you WANT goods made in the United States. The US manufactures very little these days and because of this there are less and less jobs for US workers. So if you want people to have jobs, want your children to some day have a job it's time to send the message that we are willing to pay for US manufactured goods. We all need to be willing to pay a little more to create jobs right here in the United States that have fair labor policies and safe working conditions. The investment doesn't go off to some random company. It comes right back to our communities, our neighbors and ourselves in terms of jobs and possibilities.

When we can't buy things made in the USA the next choice is Fair Trade. Fair trade can also cost more than non fair trade goods. This is really a nobrainer though. When you buy non fair trade goods your money often supports slavery, horrific working conditions, child abuse/neglect, environmental pollution, unsafe working and living conditions. Your purchase send the message that these things are OK. When you buy fair trade you send a message that you are only willing to invest in businesses that pay people living wages, offer safe working conditions and thinks about sustainability.

So next time you go to buy, stop and think first....make wise and conscious purchasing decisions.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Brainstorming way to live greener, healthier and happier

Recently my friend Sue and I have taken on the task of trying to form a local community based group for individuals and families to brainstorm ways to live greener. We call this the Amherst Community Green Living Group. There are many local organizations that work on and discussing the larger global ecological and social issues that affect our lives. Thinking globally is important....thinking locally is wonderful.... for a little while let's think even smaller. I want to explore the practical and creative ways we as individuals can live greener, healthier and happier lives. Let's learn from what we each have done individually. Having the opportunity to discuss what individuals have done in terms of alternative fuels and technology, alternative transportation, energy conservation, food storage, small organic gardens, permaculture, reducing waste etc. can help us to see and discover practical ways to live greener.

On January 30th at 6:30PM I will be hosting a showing and discussion of the film the 11th hour narrated by Leonardo DeCaprio. "this captivating documentary explores the perilous state of our planet, and the means by which we can change our course. Contributing to this crucial film are noted politicians, scientists and other ambassadors for the importance of a universal ecological consciousness.". We hope to have a nice size group of people so we can start brainstorming topics for upcoming meetings. Some ideas we have come up with already is to have speakers come and talk about solar power systems, permaculture, winter food storage, and alternatives to oil heating. I'm looking forward to see what topics and ideas others in the community bring to share and discuss. If you live in the Pioneer Valley please join us in this discussion.

Amherst Community Green Living
is a group of individuals and families in the Amherst area that get together on a monthly basis to share, discuss and educate themselves on ways to live greener and lower our carbon footprint. Our focus is on ways we as individuals can make a difference for our planet, our community, our families and ourselves.

To get involved in the Amherst Community Green Living Group simply come to a meeting, visit our website at http://www.amherstcommunitygreenliving.blogspot.comor join our mailing list http://groups.yahoo.com/group/amherstgreenliving