Corn plastic, otherwise known as polylactic acid (PLA), is rapidly replacing traditional petroleum based plastics for food containers, utensils, disposable cups and more, but how do you dispose of it? It is common to find a recycle symbol printed or molded into the container, and many also promote that the item is compostable or biodegradable. So what is the most eco-friendly way to dispose of this new generation bio plastic? The answer may depend on which does less harm and very well could be the trash can.
Composting Bio Plastic
There are few facilities equipped to fully compost PLA down to carbon and water. The process to breakdown PLA cups is approximately 30–45 days in a commercial compost facility with a sustained temperature of 140 degrees for 10 days. Most people have had mixed results with backyard composters, some taking months, others even years, much related to sustained heat. › Continue reading
Around the world, the concept of the reusable bag is catching on with gusto. The reasoning may differ from country to country, but the effects seem to be the same: less waste and more money towards environmental causes.
Many people claim that paper is more environmentally friendly than plastic, but the truth is far from that. Paper bags consume over 40% more energy to produce than plastic bags. Paper produces 50%-70% more pollutants than plastic bags in production. Paper bags also can only be recycled 5-7 times, and then the fibers are too short to stick together properly and still be useful. Unfortunately, plastic isn’t the answer. Although they use less energy to produce, they’re made of polyethylene, which is a man-made polymer that microorganisms don’t recognize as food. Essentially they will dissolve over hundreds of years through photoradiation, but that still means they just become tiny granules.
Ireland introduced a plastic bag tax, referred to as the “plastax” in 2002. The tax is now about 33 cents in USD. The money from this tax goes to the environment ministry and is used for enforcement and clean-up projects. The tax had the desired effect of cleaning up all the bags that littered the streets. Their use of plastic bags decreased by 90% or 277 million bags altogether in the first three months! Isn’t that amazing?
Australia followed suit and in 2009 the state of South Australia banned plastic bags as well. They estimated that 400 million bags would be “saved” in the first year. Studies were done previous to the ban that found that reusable bags used only 9% of the energy and 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag use.
Does such a thing even exist? Personally, I just use a trashcan without a liner and just rinse it out when it gets funky rather than add more trash to the landfill, but this doesn’t work for everybody. There are those times where you really do need a garbage bag, and not all trash bags are created equal.
Jig-A-Loo recently sent me some samples of their EconoGreen Plastic trash bags. These are made of 100% recycled plastic, are recyclable and are also oxodegradable. All this and they cost the same as a regular old trash bag!
Oxodegradable means “to degrade over time when exposed to oxygen.” For example, EconoGreen Plastics bags and drop cloths contain a unique additive that helps break down the carbon-carbon bonds in the plastic, reducing the strength of the bag when it is exposed to oxygen over a period of time (2-4 years). As the bag continues to degrade into smaller pieces it becomes a nutrient for microbes that consume the fragments leaving behind water, CO2 and a biomass. This process doesn’t leave any harmful residue or toxins.
Unfortunately, they do not degrade in a landfill, but then again, nothing does (see my recent article on how long it takes to biodegrade). While they don’t degrade fast enough for a backyard compost pile, they will begin to breakdown in 2 years if they somehow escape into the environment, and ultimately isn’t that where it counts? While it isn’t the solution, it is a step on the way to eliminating harmful plastics in our environment. I can’t wait to give these a true ‘real world’ test by letting one bag sit out on my balcony.
I just happened to see an amazing thing last night on television, a (seemingly) plastic snack-chip bag biodegrade in a time lapse in 12 weeks. Impossible! Or is it?
NatureWorks has developed a compostable bag for PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay Division, the makers of SunChips. As with many claims of length of time to biodegrade, it is usually very dependent on the environment it is placed in.
This fully biodegradable bag is said to be able to decompose over 14 weeks when placed in a hot, active compost bin or pile—at home or at an industrial composting site.
Unlike most biodegradable plastics which just break down into smaller pieces, but remain in the environment as small bits of plastic, these are made from a biopolymer resin made extracted from plant sugar called polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is made from lactic acid which in turn is made from dextrose by fermentation. Dextrose is made from starch and starch is made from carbon dioxide and water. It is said to also lower the impact on greenhouse gasses when compared to plastics due to the fact that it’s made with plants that grow annually instead of petroleum (which takes millions of years to form).
› Continue reading
Shopping bags have really come a long way. Baskets turned into paper grocery bags, which then gave way to disposable plastic bags, and now up next in the evolution of the shopping vessel is the stylish reusable tote bag. A lot of cities are beginning to tax disposable plastic bags in grocery stores, and rightly so in my opinion (just see my post on the Pacific plastic trash island to see why), and with pocket size replacements that can go anywhere, there really are no more excuses.
So lets get into it:
Flip and Tumble
Material: Ripstop Nylon
Size: The size of a peach folded, carries 2x the amount of a common plastic shopping bag. (12″ x 14″ x 5″)
Cost: $7-$12 depending on quantity
Why: The smallest and easiest to crunch down to fit into your purse or backpack
They have a wide palate of colors/prints, and the single long padded handle strap allows you to shoulder the bag. Also check out their produce bags.
Material: Ripstop Nylon
Size: Folds into a flat 5 “x 5″ pouch, carries 3x the amount of a common plastic shopping bag (15″ x 25″ x 6″)
Cost: $6.50-$8 depending on quantity
Why: Cheapest and highest capacity, but doesn’t fold as small
Wide range of sizes and colors, two wide loops for shoulder carrying. Also check out their high-capacity bags for less trips.
Material: Lightweight polyester, bamboo, linen and fine grade hemp
Size: Rolls into a 4″ x 1.5″ pouch, carries 2x the amount of a common plastic shopping bag (19.5″ x 16.5″ x 5″)
Cost: $7.50-$26 depending on quantity and material
Why: Wide range of materials as well as styles
Popular designs, graphics, colors and styles for children as well as diverse materials make Envirosax worth checking out.
Material: Recycled/Re-used T-shirt
Size: 16″ x 17 1/2″ with a 3″ gusset – roll up secured with an elastic band
Cost: $24 custom orders accepted
Why: Unique, no new materials used, great example of reuse.
Very cool look, fully lined and handcrafted. Etsy is going to have many one-off, custom and unique bags to select from.
I have always been fascinated with photography, its ability to tell a story in a single frame. Sustainable and environmental photography hardly ever gets its place in the spotlight, mainly because the images can be so graphic or disturbing that nobody wants to put them on their wall at home. Chris Jordan may be one of the only exceptions in this case as he is known for impactful, but artful photographic montages.
Chris Jordan has been on my radar for some time now, even before his photographs of millions of plastic bottles. Being a photographer myself (West|LaCount Photography) and given we both live in Seattle, WA – word gets around. His popularity has grown since converting what were once only statistics and numbers into visual representations so our minds can better quantify our impacts.
His latest photographic adventure, Midway – Message from the Gyre, is one of my favorites. Traveling to Midway Atoll, one of the remotest islands on earth, he set to show us how far reaching our impacts can be. Located in the North Pacific, halfway between the U.S. and Asia, he tells a story- a story of plastic. Home to over 1.5 million birds including colonies of Albatross, Frigate birds, Boobies, and Terns; it is also near the apex of the Pacific Garbage Patch.
“The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.”
A very troubling recent find in our ocean was a huge ‘island’ of trash twice the size of Texas and more than 30 feet deep. Just imagine a 3 story Wal-Mart sprawling from the Mexico border up from California and Arizona, through Nevada, Idaho and the whole west coast (including Oregon and Washington) and you have and idea what I’m talking about. The overall area of this behemoth is twice that of the Continental United States given its depth. Now imagine that there are TWO of them: the Western Garbage Patch just north of Hawaii, and the Eastern Garbage Patch just east of Japan.
I can’t say it was that recent, as it was predicted by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) back in 1988 and has been tracked (and growing) ever since. So why has it taken so long to get out to the public and why are there still people who don’t believe in it’s existence?
As you may have guessed from previous posts about eco plastic bottled water and soda bottle reuse, I’m not a big fan of these ubiquitous containers. With the average American consuming over 600 cans or bottles of soda and sparkling water each year, think of the environmental impact of reducing just a fraction of that.
Enter the perfect replacements – reusable containers paired with water filters and CO2 infusers! I am almost overwhelmed at the reasons why these are such great devices, here are just a few:
- Huge reduction of ‘disposable’ glass bottles, plastic bottles and cans
- Reduction in indirect transport-related emissions (from moving all those very heavy, liquid filled containers)
- Make your own sparkling mineral water and soda (without High Fructose Corn Syrup)
- unlimited flavor combination’s
- no more ‘flat’ drinks wasted or thrown away- just recharge them
- it’s cheaper!
Keep up with us on Twitter and RSS!
You can find us at: