Dear Lotus Foods:
My husband and I used our old rice cooker a lot. We used it so much, that we burned out the fuse and had to replace it. I was pretty stoked about being able to fix our appliance and make it last longer instead of tossing it out. So recently, when the connection between the machine and the power cord started to get loose (and we had to lay something heavy on the power cord to keep the machine from cutting off each time we used it), I told Michael that I was going to see if I could fix it again. But Michael’s reply surprised me. This time he said, “Why don’t we just recycle it and get a new stainless steel one?”
Repair vs. Recycle
See, there is a trade off sometimes. It may be gentler on the planet to fix things and make them last as long as possible rather than replacing them when they break. But if the old things are made of materials that might possibly be toxic to our health (plastic containers, for example, or aluminum cookware), then it might be a better decision to replace them with newer, safer materials. Alzheimer’s disease runs in my family. Both my grandmother and my mother died from it. Scientists still don’t know if aluminum plays any role in Alzheimer’s disease or not. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the jury is still out. So, with my history, I’d just as soon exercise the Precautionary Principle and avoid it.
When it comes to rice cookers, there are only a few choices… ones with aluminum pots, ones with non-stick coatings, or the stainless steel version from Lotus Foods that I had seen a few years back at the Green Festival in San Francisco. So, a couple of weeks ago, Michael and I dropped off our old machine at Green Citizen in Berkeley (a company that will fix and resell as much as possible before even considering recycling, and then will recycle responsibly without shipping e-waste overseas), and picked up a new Lotus Foods rice cooker from Berkeley Natural Grocery. We were happy to be able to find it locally instead of having to order through the mail and generate even more packaging waste.
After all that effort at being as mindful as possible about our environmental footprint, I was shocked when I opened the box and discovered a great big chunk of Styrofoam.
Really, Lotus Foods? Styrofoam?
Styrofoam is Toxic
On your site, you have gone out of your way to explain why stainless steel is the healthier option when compared to aluminum or non-stick choices. But you package your healthy product in unhealthy packaging. Styrofoam is made from styrene, a chemical listed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be a human carcinogen. You may argue that we are not really exposed to leaching styrene from the packaging in your box because it is not in direct contact with our food. But workers in the plants that produce this material are very susceptible to it. And toxic chemicals like styrene end up in the environment, where we are all susceptible.
What’s more, polystyrene is hard to recycle. As I wrote in my book, Plastic-Free:
According to the EPA, only 1 percent of all polystyrene waste was recycled in 2010. Second, when littered, it crumbles apart easily and blows everywhere, making it very difficult to clean up. The wind carries it out to sea, where it can mimic food for marine animals. A California Department of Transportation study conducted during 1998-2000 found that polystyrene foam represents as much as 15 percent of the total volume of litter recovered from storm drains.
No Need for Plastic Wraps and Plastic Cups Either
In addition to the Styrofoam on the top, the rice cooker is covered in plastic wrap, and inside the pot is a plastic rice scoop.
Why is that necessary? People who can afford to buy rice cookers will certainly have at least one cup in their kitchen cupboard with which to scoop rice. Like Styrofoam, which is a kind of plastic, other plastics are not biodegradable and are made with very toxic chemicals. Why use these excess plastics at all?
One of the companies I profile in my book is called Life Without Plastic. They sell lots of stainless steel containers. And they don’t wrap them in plastic. Life Without Plastic’s products come in a cardboard box without inside plastic wrap because they know that the environmental impact of the packaging is as important as the product inside the packaging.
We want healthy products AND healthy packaging
There seems to be a disconnect sometimes between the healthy product a company makes and the packaging it is shipped in. Organic foods are another example I ranted about back in 2009 and have continued to be mystified by to this day. Why take care to reduce the chemicals used to grow and process foods and then package them in a material that not only can leach harmful chemicals back into the food itself, but are so toxic in their manufacture in the first place?
Lotus Foods, please don’t allow your packaging choices to undermine the health benefits of your product. There are some great alternatives to polystyrene foam out there these days. For example, packaging made from mushrooms that replaces plastic foams. Or packaging made from recycled paper pulp.
Thank you for listening. I hope to hear back from you soon.
Click here to contact Lotus Foods and let them know your thoughts.