Recently, several readers, including my dad, have forwarded me articles about a group of Yale students who discovered an Amazonian fungus (pestalotiopsis microspora) that can not only eat polyurethane plastic, but can actually survive on it as its sole source of carbon. Could a fungus be the solution to our plastic pollution problem? And what does it mean in terms of the kinds of plastics we see littered every day?
Let’s stop and think it through.
There are many different types of plastic polymers. In general, single-use disposable products, the kind that make up the bulk of municipal plastic waste, are made from polyethylene terephthalate, high and low density polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, or polystyrene. Not polyurethane. Polyurethane is used as foam for furniture cushions, car seats, and mattresses; garden hoses; footwear; liquid varnishes; and a whole host of other durable products–not the … Read the rest
Pepsi’s new soda bottle is different.
Last month, PepsiCo made a big announcement: it had developed the world’s first entirely plant-based PET beverage bottle. And although the new bottle is made from plants, it’s actually less like those corn-based compostable bottles you may have heard about and more like regular, ordinary PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic, the kind of plastic nearly all single-use beverage bottles are made from.
I’ll explain all about the new bottle, why it’s interesting, and what I see are its pros and cons. But first, I need to tell you about how I went a little nutty on Twitter the night after the story was published. See, normally I’d have taken the story in stride, looked into the bottle on my own time, and decided if it was worth writing about. But that night, I started seeing all these excited tweets about PepsiCo’s new “plastic-free” bottle.
Plastic-free?… Read the rest
One thing I learned to my dismay back in 2007 when I decided to try and live without plastic is that without exception, all frozen foods come packaged in some kind of plastic. Even cardboard containers like ice cream cartons are lined with plastic. That information sucked for me, the convenience food junkie.
I did however, have a moment of hope when I discovered Stahlbush Island Farms’s frozen fruits and veggies packaged in what looked like plain brown paper. But that hope was crushed when I opened the bag and saw that it too was lined inside with plastic.
Well, recently, several readers have excitedly informed me that Stahlbush’s packaging is now labeled as biodegradable.
So I went out and bought a bag of frozen spinach just so I could look inside. Here’s what I found:
Looks like plastic, right? The Stahlbush web site doesn’t give any details about the new bag except to say it’s biodegradable. So, not one to accept any… Read the rest
In the same week that Pepsico pulled its SunChips compostable PLA package off grocery store shelves, Stonyfield Farm announced its new PLA yogurt cups. And while I pretty much dissed the SunChips bag in my post last week, I am feeling a little warmer towards Stonyfield’s effort. Not hot. Not warm and fuzzy. But while I think there are better options, I have to concede that the new yogurt cup is a step in the right direction, and I’ll tell you why. (Of course I’ll tell you why. That’s the purpose of this blog.)
Prepare yourself for a long post. There’s a lot of information here, but I think it’s all important. So get yourself a snack and settle in.
PLA vs. Polystyrene
Stonyfield’s new yogurt cups replace the multipack cups that were previously made from polystyrene. That’s right. While their larger sized and single-serving containers are made from #5 polypropylene plastic and can be returned … Read the rest
Their names range from the catchy (TaterWare, WheatWare, SpudWare) to the merely descriptive (Compostable utensils, PLA utensils, etc.) And while they are touted as an alternative to petroleum-based plastics, very few of them are actually compostable in a real world situation.
Take, for example, TaterWare, made from potato starch, of course. Many of the eateries in San Francisco provide this brand of take-out cutlery and feel good about it because with San Francisco’s new composting law, these things have the best shot at actually being composted. Trouble is, even if the utensils make it to the compost facility, there is little chance they will truly break down all the way.
A program manager from Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling sent me the following photos of TaterWare that had been through the city’s commercial compost operation (60-90 days):
Let me reiterate: These photos were taken AFTER commercial composting… Read the rest
It’s a new week, and I’m ready to talk trash. One of the most common questions I get about plastic-free living is what I do for garbage bags. And the second most common question is what to line our waste cans with if plastic grocery bags are banned.
Here’s my short answer: We don’t line our trash can with any plastic bags at all.
The longer answer is that since we make almost zero trash, and the trash we do make is dry, we don’t have any need for bags to collect it.
… Read the rest
As 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.… Read the rest
A week ago, I showed this photo from the SF Green Festival and asked what was wrong with this picture. No one offered the specific answer I was looking for, but many gave great partial attempts.
Ken O. noticed that all the bin liners are biodegradable, and he’s right. In fact, they are all corn-based BioBags. Lara S. gave an excellent answer, “the plastic bags are unnecessary and shouldn’t be there (compostable or not… it’s a waste).” If these bins were at our homes, most of us could do without any liners at all. Michael and I don’t use any kind of garbage bags at our house these days… compostable or not.
But for a big 3-day event where there is quite a bit of solid waste (despite being a zero-waste event!) it’s more practical to swap out some kind of liner than to move many, many bins around.
So here’s what happened: these green BioBags were the first thing I noticed when I entered the convention… Read the rest
This is a photo of a few things I brought home from the Outside Lands Music Festival Friday night: Two compostable cups made from corn and two compostable potato or cornstarch spoons. (Mine and my friend’s.) As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I forgot to bring my cute reusable bamboo utensils with me. And I didn’t think to bring a cup for wine either so felt lucky to find compostables rather than plastic or Styrofoam.
When I took my compostable cup back to the wine vendor for a refill, the server said, “It’s okay. You can have a new one.” Yeah, I can. But why should I? Just because an item can be composted, does that mean we have to compost it after one use? Just because an item is recyclable, does that mean we are compelled to recycle it immediately?
In yesterday’s post I whined about the “recyclable” plastic wine “glasses” being handed out in the WineHaven tent. Of course we know that… Read the rest
A lot of plastic hides in objects that many people don’t realize contain plastic: plastic that coats and lines cartons and cans and caps and lids. Plastic that can’t be separated from the material it’s attached to. Here’s a rundown of some of them.
Paper milk cartons are lined with two layers of polyethylene, inside and out. Many people are under the mistaken belief that these cartons are waxed. In fact, although the original paperboard milk cartons were coated with paraffin wax, they haven’t contained wax since the 40’s when polyethylene became the waterproofing material of choice.
Here is a diagram of how they are made, directly from Elopak’s web site.
The point is that if it’s made from paper these days, and it holds liquids, it’s generally going to be coated with plastic. As far as I know, there’s no ice cream container that’s not coated with a petroleum-based plastic,… Read the rest