March 23, 2009

Your opinion please! Year 2, Week 40 Results: 3.1 oz of plastic waste.

I need your opinion about whether or not to include a particular item in my tally. But first, here is all the rest of the plastic for this week.

Plastic purchased before the plastic project began:

  • Plastic bottle of Dr. Weil’s Balanced Cal/Mag tablets and plastic cap. As bad as I’ve been about flossing, I’ve been worse about taking my vitamins and minerals. And my doctor is insistent that I need to be taking calcium. So I fished out this bottle from the back of the cupboard. Fortunately, it had not yet expired. I finished it this week. I’ll be switching to New Chapter Organics Bone Strength Take Care formula, which is all organic, from plant sources, and comes in a glass bottle. I already take their Every Woman II multi vitamin, which are so mild you can take them on an empty stomach. The glass bottles, of course, do come with a plastic cap. I emailed New Chapter tonight to see if they had any plans to take them back for recycling.
  • Plastic dental floss container. See? I’m doing it! Now that this is gone, I’ll be using Eco-Dent which comes in a cardboard box and tastes yummy.
  • Mystery plastic tab. Something I found and have no idea what it came from.

And now, the new plastic waste:

  • Plastic seal from new Preserve toothbrush. I don’t include any other part of the Preserve toothbrush or packaging in my tally because it’s already made from recycled plastic and I can return the whole thing to Preserve for further recycling. But this tiny plastic seal can’t be recycled.
  • Plastic seal and plastic tab from glass bottle of Spectrum canola oil.
  • Plastic from the ends of a bunch of organic bananas.
  • Plastic seal from around the neck of a glass bottle of Dental Herb Company Tooth & Gums Tonic. This is my new daily mouth rinse, recommended by Dr. Pockrass. It’s alcohol-free and comes in a glass bottle. (Another plastic cap, of course.) I’ll write more about my full low-plastic dental regimen later this week.
  • 2 more doses of Frontline flea & tick killer for cats. Despite the initial Frontline treatment and major carpet cleaning, the fleas came back. Probably those that were in the pupa stage the first time around. I’m hoping this will be the last treatment for a while. I really hate using these toxic chemicals.

And now, my question for you. As you may recall, for several weeks I’ve lamented Financial West Group’s incessant blue plastic-covered mailings. Here and here and here and here. I even sent some back to the company with a note.

Well, this week I got another one. But this time it was slightly different from before.

Look closer:

Hmm… that wasn’t there before! I looked up ECM. It, like Symphony, of which I wrote a while back, manufactures an additive that, when added to petroleum-based plastic, causes it to break down fully in both aerobic (compost) and non-aerobic (landfill) conditions. The plastic actually does biodegrade, according to this company, rather than simply breaking down into smaller plastic particles.

So my question is whether or not I should include this new plastic wrapper in my tally. It is, after all, petroleum-based plastic. It still requires virgin plastic to produce, plastic in the form of “nurdles” which pollute our waterways before they are ever made into products. Still, I could just bury it in the front yard and see what happens. What do you think?

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13 years ago

I’ve had a biodegradable bag (corn based I think) in my compost pile for 8 months and it shows no signs of breaking down in my lifetime. It kinda bugs me out that companies use this biodegradable claim to make it okay to ship in plastic.

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
13 years ago

Re Eco-Dent — I use this as well, and it’s great that the packaging is biodegradable, but what about the floss itself???

Beth Terry
13 years ago

Okay, gang. 1/2 of the plastic mailer is in the mailbox as we speak… and will be on its way to Radical Garbage Man today.

The other half is on my desk in front of me. I will include it in my tally. Rachel’s very simple argument was the most convincing:

“I vote to include it because it is not something you wish to receive as part of your plastic-free mission.”

That’s right. It’s not. I’d rather they used a recycled paper envelope. I really wish they wouldn’t send me paper mail at all, but this company is not yet authorized to go completely paperless. (There are regulations on financial services companies that require certain steps be taken before they can go paperless. This company is working on it, I’ve been told.)

So, I think I’ll do the flower pot thing, as someone suggested. That way I can really watch what happens to it.

And to those worried that it won’t compost in a home situation, you are thinking of compostable plastic made from food starches like corn. This is not that. It has an additive in it that will cause it to break down no matter where it is. It’s the additive that freaks us out a little bit because we don’t know exactly what it is!

13 years ago

I know I’m late to the party on this one, but I’ve also been told on many occasions that biodegradable plastic can’t be composted or degraded in your backyard, it must be done in a facility.

I really don’t know what the means, but it sounds like a whole lot of greenwashing to me.

13 years ago

I like what Radical Garbage Man suggests; figure out what this stuff is and test how well it actually composts. I read recently that “compostable” plastic bags are compostable only in large facilities like what major cities have at their transfer stations. Throwing it in the backyard compost results in no breakdown due to the temperatures being too low. This claim was on the website though, which is run by the plastics industry, would be an interesting claim to test.

13 years ago

I smell an experiement!
As Ms. Ruchi said “I want you to bury it in your backyard as an experiment!”

I agree- you should bury in an inconspicous (SP) corner of the yard and dig it up a month later to see how and /or if it decomposed

Ain’t science grand?

13 years ago

I vote to include it because it is not something you wish to receive as part of your plastic-free mission.

13 years ago

I heard that the ‘additive’ that these companies are adding is cobalt. I looked up properties of cobalt and it can be a carcinogen!
We have to ask – what is this additive and how the heck are they making petroleum based plastics biodegradable? Biodegradable is not a regulated term like compostable. It could mean anything!! Scary!

13 years ago

I think you should bury the plastic wrapper for your experiment, but still include it in your weekly tally, since it is still petroleum-based, and especially because its just something that goes from point A to point B, and will inevitably get thrown away.

I totally agree with some readers that are saying not to put it in with your regular compost. If it actually does biodegrade you could always just bury that material someplace else in your yard.

knutty knitter
13 years ago

I think I’d count it myself. After all, they could have just used a paper envelope. I definitely would experiment with it – what does it biodegrade into? If its made of hydrocarbons surely it must degrade into hydrogens and carbons of some sort and that could be just as bad as plastic not degrading.

Silver, I agree on the clothes front.

viv in nz

just ducky
13 years ago

The purist tendency in me says “count it”. I feel it is another big corporations way of appeasing the ecologically-minded folks out there without putting too much strain on their own practices. Some might view this as my being negative…but I think it is just being realistic…

Condo Blues
13 years ago

We have a crazy little game we play at The Condo called “Will It Compost?” We through stuff in the composter all the time just to see what will happen. So yeah, I’m all for a rousing game if “Will It Biodegrade?”!

13 years ago

Have you tried natural flea repellents like diatomaceous earth (the “edible” kind not the pool kind), or a rosemary lemon spray (homemade, of course)? I know plenty of dog owners who swear by both of these things, even in California and other high flea areas.

13 years ago

The seventh-grader inside me wants you to experiment not only with burying the plastic wrap but also with planting something over it. I’m curious not only about whether these things actually biodegrade as well as they’re supposed to, but what effects they have on plants that absorb the plastic as it degrades. So, my suggestion is to get two pots, put the plastic in one of them, then plant some lima bean plants (every seventh-grader’s go-to science experiment plant) in both pots and see if there are observable differences between the two. :)

Farmer's Daughter
13 years ago

I’m thinking SCIENCE EXPERIMENT!!! I stole some “biodegradable” plant tags from a local nursery so I could have my students do an experiment on them to see if it works.

What does it biodegrade TO? Remember the law of conservation of matter.

13 years ago

Bury it! I’d love to witness your experiment. Shame on them if it doesn’t really decompose. But less is always best. Is it really necessary in the first place? I think it qualifies as plastic even if it is decomposing plastic.

As for the calcium, make sure you are getting enough sunshine so that your body will make adequate Vitamin D to better absorb the calcium.

My blog posts:

The importance of sunshine:

Vitamin D:

Thanks for all your GREAT info! Be well, xo-Carla aka

Green Resolutions
13 years ago

I agree – include it and then experiment!

Also, I’ve been meaning to ask you if compostable to-go cups from restaurants are worse than regular plastic in the landfill? I remember reading on your blog that biodegradable garbage backs are worse than regular plastic in landfills where they don’t have oxygen… is it the same with the cups, forks, etc., that some restaurants are using?

13 years ago

Hello – well the packaging seems to have been used with good intentions. They must’ve paid extra to buy that stuff too to send with their mailings. I think that it’s cool that companies pay attention to people’s comments – makes me want to write more letters!
However, maybe someone can clear this up for me – but could it possibly biodegrade in a landfill and if it could, would it matter if surrounded by stuff that cannot biodegrade? I thought landfills were basically designed to seal garbage off from the environment (ideally) forever.
I suppose it would only have the chance to biodegrade if someone took the time to compost it. …do I want this nourishing my veggies??!!! (o:
Okay, I agree with anohter poster that a paper large envelope would be sufficient – you could easily recycle something like that.
So, I would suggest you add it to your tally unless you are going to add it to your compost heap.
Take Care Em

13 years ago

As far as fleas, you AND the cat will hate it, but try some apple cider vinegar. You can try putting it in their water, but if that doesn’t work, you can bathe them with it. You’ll need to dilute it of course, but the smell will chase the fleas away, and the vinegar will pop the ones that don’t!

13 years ago

i say definitely include it. it’s using fossil fuels. though i’m curious what they’re using that breaks it totally down?

i’d also include any recycled plastic….maybe in a separate category?

my rationale comes from a personal discernment process i had around 2nd hand clothes. initially, i just thought as 100% post consumer waste, my clothing choices had zero impact or even a positive impact by keeping them out of the landfill. but then i started to think that if there were no new clothes (possibly of petroleum and/or natural fibres from field soaked in chemical pesticides and herbicides and/or made in sweatshops by young women/children who are paid a pittance and otherwise treated more like slaves than beautiful people and/or shipped around the world on ships and trucks that burn fossil fuels)….if there were no NEW clothes, then i could have no RECYCLED clothes.

as an individual, i might be able to say that my recycled clothing choices have no impact. but as an individual that is part of a world community where everything is connected to everything, where i am a part of everything, i say that my recycled clothing still carries a cost to life.

perhaps i think too much? but i’m probably not going to stop:)

thanks for all we do and don’t do!

lynn, your accounting friend in the southern appalachians

Beth Terry
13 years ago

Radical Garbage Man, I just sent you an email. I can do the flower pot thing if you do the bokashi and worms and espionage. Question: will costumes and masks be involved?

David, I am totally with you on that. I have begged various companies to tell me what’s in their additives, too. Tried to find out about Goody Plastics, as well, to no avail. Trade secrets. So irritating that companies are allowed to keep secret additives and ingredients that could affect our health.

Lisa, this is a different kind of “biodegradable” plastic. Not starch based. Supposedly, the additive breaks it down into small enough particles that microbes can then finish it off. But what’s the additive? Like David said, we want to know!

Anarres Natural Health
13 years ago

Dear Beth,

Sadly, I vote to include it.

My spider sense tingles when I hear about this stuff. I have likened this kind of "biodegradable" plastic to a scatter bomb. It doesn't take up permanent space in a landfill. I bet it breaks down into a fantasmagoric array of endocrine disruptors that make their way rapidly into the water table and possibly alter our soil and plants and then animals and then us. It could be a nightmare.

Plus the nurdles.
Plus the false sense of security around waste and plastic.
Plus an excuse to green-wash a basic evil/subsidy to the petroleum industry.

But I wouldn't come down too hard on the company that's made the switch. They're working on it.

Here's some glass bottled vitamin ideas:
Carlson Chewables

Alas, the plastic caps are the only tamper proof types. They replaced metal caps. They're a mix, looks to me, of HDPE, PPE and PS, so they are un-recyclable unless they are taken apart. Let's crush the petroleum industry so that recycling these becomes as viable as recycling metals.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

13 years ago

Lisa – it is regular plastic that they add something to. I don’t know which is worse – this or using food to make plastic.

Radical Garbage Man – that would be awesome. Beth, could you send some to him?

13 years ago

Interesting! I don’t have time to research this right now (being at work) but I wonder, too, what the “additive” is, how it’s manufactured, and how they know the plastic completely biodegrades. And what does it biodegrade into – thin air? There has to be some sort of chemical change that takes place, I’m guessing. I wonder what that’s like.

Even if it does completely biodegrade, you’re right, it does use virgin materials (as well as the mystery additive) and a manufacturing process for a product that seems unnecessary.

Maybe if the biodegradable plastic was for something more useful, like for health or safety reasons, I wouldn’t mind it quite as much.

13 years ago

Don’t bury it in your front yard — bury it in a pot inside so you can dig it up and check its degrading every (day/week/month) and keep us posted!

Using it for a science experiment to educate your readers would mean that you can not count it this week — you’re reusing it (in a way). However, future mailing wrappers would need to be counted. :)

13 years ago

Bury it! I love a good experiment.

Lisa Sharp
13 years ago

A lot of biodegradable plastics are from soy beans or corn. Is that not the case with this one?? I didn’t think it could break down unless it was one of those…

Radical Garbage Man
13 years ago

I agree with David above. However I also agree with ruchi. I would like to add to the experiment idea:

Please send me some of the material and I will attempt to “biodegrade” it in a couple different ways. I’ll do some vermiposting and bokahsi fermentation and send pics after a while.

I will also try and toss it over to an organic chemist friend of mine at the local university and see if we can’t do a little industrial espionage… er… “crowdsourcing”.

I believe you still have my email address… otherwise you can get my mailing address off of the Facebook.

13 years ago

I want you to bury it in your backyard as an experiment! How long does it really take biodegradable plastic to biodegrade? Inquiring minds want to know!!

13 years ago

As for the plastic wrapper…I’m not sure. But I guess my comment to them would be, why do your mailings really need to be wrapped in plastic? Paper just isn’t good enough?

But I wanted to thank you for posting your vitamin links…those look much better than what I’m taking, and are available here – and the glass bottles pretty much seal the deal…yeah, less plastic! So thanks!

13 years ago

I take issue with these new companies adding “something”, which they don’t want to tell us about, to plastic to make it biodegradable. I seriously doubt it actually fully goes away, but I cannot get a straight answer from any of those companies. I had a dialog with someone making water bottles out of this stuff, and they could never say they knew for a fact the plastic biodegraded…they “thought” it would. They also would not tell me what was added to the plastic, so you have to wonder if it is some weird chemical. At least “regular” plastic can be recycled – who knows what this Frankenstein stuff is.