The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 12, 2010

Birthday Plastic Report

Birthday ice cream with candleAs I mentioned last week, Thursday was my birthday, and my office mates threw me the traditional birthday lunch, complete with take-out food, some living plant-type thing, ice cream, and presents. I love this celebration but I’m also wary of the amount of plastic I might accumulate. So let’s see how we did this year.


Generally take-out meals from the area where I work (just south of San Francisco) involve a lot of plastic or Styrofoam packaging. This town doesn’t yet have the type of food packaging regulations that other Bay Area cities do. Fortunately, our director happened to be in San Francisco that day, so at my request, she picked up lunch from Mixt Greens, the certified green lunch restaurant downtown. The salads, comprised of local and mainly organic ingredients, were delicious. I ordered the Maui, which includes coriander crusted seared ahi tuna. Yeah, it’s like that. And here’s the box it came in:

Mixt Greens salad box

Looks like a bunch of plastic, but the box, lid, utensils, and dressing container are all compostable.

Mixt Greens salad box

Mixt Greens salad box

Is it the best option of all? Well no, it’s PLA, which is made from corn. NaturesPLAstic is created from NatureWorks PLA, which was developed by Cargill Dow. It’s undoubtedly made from GMO corn, which we know is fraught with environmental impacts, and while it can be composted in San Francisco where Mixt Greens is located, it cannot be composted near my office. So normally, it would end up in the trash.

Except I was there to save it from that fate. At the end of the meal, I bagged up all the containers and utensils to take home and put into my City of Oakland green bin for composting.

Mixt Greens salad boxes

One of my coworkers couldn’t believe I would take home “garbage” on BART. I can’t believe I had to either. Why does the city where I work STILL not have commercial composting for businesses? Or a sustainable food packaging ordinance? Come on people, do I have to do everything?

I brought the containers home, but I have not emptied them into the green bin. Single-use disposable packaging just rubs me the wrong way, no matter what it’s made of. Maybe I can wash it out and find someone who can use it. Perhaps the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, where I take toilet paper rolls, cardboard egg cartons, and other odds and ends that someone else might consider to be art supplies. And I can use one of the forks to replace the To-Go Ware bamboo fork that I lost. (Remember how I said I lose things all the time?)

I don’t have a solution to the take-out packaging dilemma. When I am by myself, of course, I bring my own containers, utensils, mug, etc. But most people expect restaurants to provide containers for them. Specifically,  disposable containers they won’t have to return. And what about group lunches like the one in my office? What would be the practical solution there? We’ve had potlucks in the past for which each of us contributes a dish or salad ingredient. But for several reasons, that was not a practical alternative last week. Are compostable containers the next best thing? (And why doesn’t my spell checker ever think that “compostable” is a real word?)


fake plastic fish bamboo plant

It’s a live bamboo plant to which someone added a fake plastic fish. Those pranksters. I’m keeping it on my desk. Just not too close to my face. Don’t want to be breathing in those yummy phthalates.


Aside from a little bit of Scotch tape, there was really no plastic to speak of. Unless you count the two gigantic chunks of Styrofoam encasing this porcelain tea pot. Ooch!

tea pot

Here’s the thing: I’m a compulsive re-gifter. If I don’t love a gift, I pass it along. If it’s full of plastic or Styrofoam (which is plastic), it’s outta here. If it sits on the shelf too long without ever being used, I obviously don’t need it. It’s gone.

This combo teapot/tea cup? It stays.

I’m keeping it, Styrofoam and all. I’m adding those two bad boys to my plastic tally because Mama’s ready for tea. Did you notice the sweet little tray it sits on? The whole thing is so pretty I just want to hug it. Did I mention the teapot comes with a strainer basket for the type of loose tea I get from the bulk jars at Whole Foods? And have you ever noticed how I carry several mugs of hot water at a time down to my desk because one is never enough?

The fact is that this teapot is something I would never have bought myself in a million years. Because of the packaging. And because honestly, I don’t really need it. But it’s sweet, and the person who bought it for me knew I would enjoy it. So that is what I intend to do.

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13 years ago

Municipal composting is a world away from where I live. Some parts of my city have green waste cans; but, they are only for yard and garden waste. The only solution for food scraps and other compostables is home composting. Here is a good how- to article.

I have been trying to compost some of corn plastic and compostable paper goods out there with varying success. The paper goods break down in about two weeks once they are full soaked with water. If the are not wet, they don’t break down. (Which I suspect would happen if they are tied in a plastic bag and sent to the landfill).

Last spring, I put some corn plastic utensils in my compost pile to see how they would do. They have gone through two piles without showing any signs of breakdown. Last fall, I put them into a third new pile (which I expect to fully break down over the winter). I am waiting for spring to dig them out and see what state they are in.

13 years ago

Your comment about genetically modified crops made me think of a book I read recently. He is someone who was very anti GM in the past, but through contacts has come to have a different understanding, you might be interested in it: Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto – Stewart Brand

13 years ago

you should try biodegradable wooden cutlery next time made by aspenware. Happy birthday!

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

You have an award on my blog. :)

Condo Blues
13 years ago

I think the teapot is perfect because you are known for balancing cups of hot water for tea. In fact if you’d like some of my home grown plastic free mint tea to use in that pot let me know. I have tons!

Can your creative reuse center use the Styrofoam packaging? We have something similar and I see strange packing material in there often. The volunteers say someone takes if for reuse.

The Raven
13 years ago

You’ve hit on exactly what I find hardest about any green actions we take: figuring out how to balance our own personal commitments and our relationships with people with different commitments. When it is appropriate to break one’s “rules” in order not to be too off-putting, and when should we keep them in order to inspire? Always a difficult balance!

13 years ago

Your teapot is adorable.

When styrofoam happens to me I take it to Arts Junktion nearby for the school board to distribute, or to the University of Toronto to recycle.

PLA pusses me off because it can only compost in industrial facilities and buggers up plastic recycling. Potato starch is a bit less aweful, and vegetable cellulose because they biodegrade.

When I grow up and run a restaurant, durable takeout containers will be sold at cost. They will each be imprinted with a coupon with a dollar value so that people will comb back to my restaurant for more orders.

Happy Birthday, Beth!

surviving and thriving on pennies
13 years ago

Since my birthday was on Sunday, I was a little worried too about all the plastic crap. Luckily my husband took me out to dinner so there was no take out plastic involved. But he bought me a freezer which will be delivered tomorrow. Now I have never had anything delivered before but I have a feeling its going to be full of plastic bags to hold papers, plastic bag around parts etc. Yikes! Not sure if the hubby asked them to keep all the plastic or not…..If not I guess its going to be taken into be recycled. Plastic really does have a way of sneaking in urrrrrrr.

Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

That is darn cute!!! Good for you on keeping it. :) And the fish thing is funny.

13 years ago

Speaking of the evils of GMOs :

It occurred to me that organic crops aren’t necessarily fertilized with compost made from organic products. So that chemicals, genetic modifications, and bacteria that we’re trying to avoid by eating organic can be passed along. I guess we could start thinking in terms of “generations” of organic. First-generation might still use non-organic fertilizer, but second-generation would use fertilizer made from organic waste, though including first-generation. Eventually, the amount of unwanted stuff in organic food would become so tiny that you could forget about it, though maybe you basically can already. (Though if you believe in homeopathy, a tiny amount of contaminant would change the whole crop!) Anyway, you could judge the quality of organic produce by how many generations it was. Of course, you could just start from scratch with compost made from wild sources, virgin sources that have never known human intervention/modification.

axelle fortier
13 years ago

I don’t even bother trying to resist taking home clean, clear plastic containers with lids, or sushi trays with Japanese prints on them that I find in trash bins at fast-food places. I can pack 5 underpants into a quart-size container with lid. Bingo, there’s my new underwear drawer. If the plastic gets scruffy, I recycle the container and get another one out of the trash. I move a lot, so I’m always thinking about e-z packing and ways to cut down on furniture. The sushi trays are such nice drawer dividers that I don’t want to cover them with a lot of stuff, which makes me want less. Stuff.

Beth, I will take those birthday containers. Let me know you’ll leave them on your porch and I’ll come get them. Happy Birthday.

13 years ago

if compostable things wind up in the landfill, will they eventually compost there?

regardless, we should have compost bins all over, replacing trash cans.
(ok, i know that’s waaaay down the road, but still)

Super Green Girl
13 years ago

It is hard when it comes to social occasions or when people are doing something from the kindness of their hearts. While I think the “compostable” corn containers are a step, how can something like that truly compost in the real sense. They have to be composted at very high temperatures, not our backyards. It is kind of the same feeling I get when I see organic Doritos. A step, but not the “cure”.

13 years ago

Happy Birthday Beth!!! Do you have an IKEA nearby? Ikea Seattle takes styrofoam for recycling and I am sure the others do as well. That fake plastic fish would make a great addition to the Plastic Monster Costume

13 years ago

That is a pretty sweet teapot, I would probably keep it, too.

We can’t control other peoples’ actions, so I think that as long as we’re not encouraging them to buy us stuff we wouldn’t buy ourselves, accepting gifts such as this is totally reasonable. I especially run into this with my kids and their grandparents, who love to buy them noisy plastic toys. I make my wishes known, but at some point all I can do is be gracious.

13 years ago

Wow…compostable food containers and mass composting are so far and away a different world from where I live! When I was a kid, I went to Catholic school and church, and whenever there was a potluck (like the St. Patrick’s Day dance, or when the governor’s wife came and visited my 3rd grade class), part of the deal was that in addition to brining a dish (of food) to share, each family brought its own dishes–plates, cups and silverware for eating the food. Why can’t potlucks be like that everywhere all the time?

Lara S.
13 years ago

I think you handled the birthday situation pretty well! The only thing I can think of to improve, would be to take durable cutlery from your home to work, and ask the restaurant not to include those. But it would have been awful to carry those on BART, so it’s understandable.
I love the teapot too!! It’s absolutely beautiful. Enjoy it!!