FDR Memorial

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Plastic from Corn or Oil? How About None of the Above

Last week my nine year old son and I went to the grocery store. He made it his task to make sure there was as little plastic in the wagon as possible. Whenever a product came in a container other than plastic we choose that option. When our wagon was full we still had shampoo bottles, dish soap, sour cream and yogurt containers. We came home and immediately wrote some letters to Whole Foods corporate offices making some suggestions on how they could reduce plastic use starting with returning to refillable options.

Plastic is a problem that NEVER goes away and even the "alternative" plastic have very real drawbacks.
The alternatives to traditional plastic are in the forms of PLA and Oxo-Biodegradable plastic.

PLA is considered a compostable and biodegradable resource. It is often referred to as carbon neutral because is comes from carbon absorbing plants. PLA can be made from wheat, beets, potatoes and corn.You can read my earlier post on PLA for more information on it's pros and cons.

Oxo-biodegradable plastic is made from PETROLEUM. The same plastic pellets that make old fashion plastic make oxo-biodegradable plastic and then additives are included to allow the plastic to fragment and degrade. The additive called D2W and metal salts allow the plastic to chemically degrade (not bio-degrade). Manufactures claim the metals are trace amounts but others worry about the added metals in the soil and food chain. While Oxo-degradable plastics are being used in Europe they are not certified biodegradable by the EU.
EU standards for compostable and biodegradable packaging was introduced and adopted by all European states (equivalent standards exist in the USA,Canada, India and Australia). These standards ensure that a product is biodegradable, compostable and is safe. In order to gain certification, the final packaging product must be fully tested and approved. To date, degradable plastics have not met the requirements for biodegradable certification (8/08)"
These plastics are still a petroleum product and have a serious impact.

Back at the grocery store in an effort to avoid plastic we have had to make some changes. Rather than buy that bag of dried fruit in a plastic bag we buy dried fruit in the bulk section in a paper bag. We will bring the fruit home and put it in a glass jar and then re-use and re-cycle the paper bag. When we go to the recycling center in our town we always look for big glass storage jars and jars of all sizes and shapes. No more need for plastic containers.

At the store we wanted to buy cookies but when we arrived in the cookie isle we found so much packaging we were overwhelmed. We can buy organic sugar in the bulk section in a paper bag and flour wrapped in a paper bag. Then we went home and made our own cookies, apple muffins, carrot bread and a marble bundt cake. In avoiding the packaging my kids rediscovered baking, had fun projects on these cold snowy days and we had yummy things to eat all week. Some times the things we think are convenient remove us from the process of living.
We just need to think about the choices we make when we buy products and the impact of those products.

So next time you are in the store and you reach for the plastic bag or the products packaged in plastic STOP! Use a paper bag instead and recycling it. Better yet for veggies and fruits let them touch each other and roll around in the wagon. I know it's a radical idea but those carrots don't mind fraternizing with the apples. They really did all just come from the farm full of dirt, manure and bugs. When you reach for something in a plastic bottle or container look around to see if you have the options of buy that product in another form of packaging. If not can you buy a large container that will last longer (rather than 2 small ones) or buy concentrated products that can be made to last longer.
At the end of the day the bottom line is that we need to use less stuff and rethink our transportation and storage of goods.

Info & Links

A Dummy's Guide to Biodegradable, degradable and compostable

A Bittersweet Symphony called D2W

End of the Road for Plastic?

D2W Information from Symphony


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I'm finding that we're doing more shopping at our local co-op in an effort to avoid packaging. There's not much time for cooking around our place, but I do find that taking a little extra thought will often help me avoid a bit of packaging--not trivial when you consider that we're talking geological time here, for the stuff to ever go away, and the nasty habit much of it has of leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and water as it does break down (chemically, but not organically, with the exception of PLA).

Thanks for sharing a different kind of parenting story, Beth.

Tim Dunn, Realtor said...

The remarks about "little bits of plastic" from oxo-biodegradable in the envirnoment is a slander by the vast PLA lobby run by the Cargill Inc. We are introducing a third category, however, non-oxo, non-PLA biodegradable proven according to ASTM standards. So much plastic disposable products are made from an industrial byproduct that used to be thrown away, Naptha, that millions would starve in the third world if we made all that plastic out of corn (PLA) Read more at http://biogreenproducts.biz -Tim Dunn

Beth Anne Moonstone (& Family) said...

First Tim, The comment about little bits of plastic was not mine. I can understand the concern that particular person has but in my own research I did not see any research or evidence of this issue. There just isn't any research other than that done by the manufacturers themselves.

I think their are pros and cons to all forms of plastic. Both PLA and oxo-degradable plastic are a step in the right direction. However waste product or not it is time for us to get off the petroleum bandwagon. Degradable and biodegradable options are a short term step. We need to think beyond the short term and innovate non petroleum products and rethink when something that seems helpful is actually harmful in the long run (in geological time).

The amount of plastic the average household uses is just enormous. We need to reduce our usage and be smarter about what forms of plastic we use when we do.

Max said...

Plastic bottles are a growing problem in our landfills and oceans. We felt that something needed to be done……and now.

We felt that plastics made from crops that could be producing food, wasn’t the answer. Many reports indicate that in addition to causing our food process to rise, the equipment and chemicals used to produce food based bio-fuel may be increasing pollution.

We knew that there wasn’t going to be one “fix it all” answer and began to wonder if anything was ever going to be done. The problem was growing every day, more bottles were being manufactured and more bottles were accumulating in places where we didn’t need them.

We were wondering if “Earth Friendly Bottles” would ever be available?

That’s why we decided to do our part and started ENSO Bottles. We are partnering with other companies to offer a PET plastic bottle that will biodegrade, compost or recycle.

Our bottles can be produced in a clear or colored version, however, clear version isn't quite as clear as current PET plastic bottles but then again that's one way to identify our earth friendly bottle.

ENSO is trying to achieve sustainability with our plastic bottles. Our goal is to make bottles that won’t have the adverse impact on our environment and are made from non food bio-fuels.

We haven't started making them from bio-fuel but that’s high on our agenda and hopefully will be something we can offer in the future.

But for now, we offer a plastic bottle that is earth friendly...it’s just one step but if we all take just one step toward improving our planet….we will make a difference.

Now all we need is for a lot of beverage companies to start using earth friendly plastic bottles.

Beth Anne Moonstone (& Family) said...

What about BPA? Do Enso bottles have BPA? There is an alternative. Don't buy plastic bottles. Plenty of drinks and juice come in glass bottles. Water bottles can and are easily available in re-useable stainless steel. Alternative plastics made from petroleum are still a petroleum product. I appreciate companies taking steps to make their products more environmentally sound and furthering the research. As individuals though we need to realize that there are simple alternatives to many plastic items.