Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Bottle Debate; weighing the pro’s and con’s

         As our society is continuing to grow and advance, with the constant improvement come some side effects. It is now possible to buy containers for food, or water (even already filled) for a dollar in change. With the many conveniences of these containers, however, can come some drawbacks.

         Containers all have their own pros and cons, some downsides being health risks, but some plus sides being very low cost and durability. With an emphasis on water bottles, what is the best choice? I supposed that depends on the definition of "best", but here are some pros and cons for you to decide that yourself.

Glass Bottles; The good

1.    Glass containers are non-permeable and do not absorb color and odor from food or drinks.

2.   Glass is better for the environment, and can be used near indefinitely without changing its shape and durability. Glass can be recycled without losing its quality, so most glass bottle purchases are buying a product made from recycled glass.

3.    Glass lasts extremely long and doesn’t need to be replaced as often, and will save money over time.

While glass has many taste, environmental, health, and finance benefits, there are still negatives to consider. The major problems outlined ahead.

Glass Bottles; The bad

1. High danger of broken glass
2. Not all glass is recyclable
3. Glass bottles cannot be frozen with water in them.
4. May be initially more expensive (especially if repeatedly broken)

Now we come to the generic, most used plastic bottle. That may not be a good thing however. The benefits of plastic bottles are

Plastic Bottle; The good
1.      Cheapest to buy
2.      Variety of sizes, and can be frozen

Plastic Bottle; The bad
1.      Not safe for hot liquids or microwaves
2.      Most plastic still has BPA (bisphenol A) which causes heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.

3.      Scientific studies show that the chemicals in plastic break down and leach into the food or drink they are storing, especially when heated, allowing chemicals to be consumed.

4.      Almost every time a plastic bottle or container is purchased, it is made using new plastic.

Among these first two of the most usual purchased water bottles, are some new party guests. These include both stainless steel and aluminum water bottles.

Stainless Steel Bottle; The good
1.      Durable, high-quality design
2.      No plastic toxins to worry about
3.      More sizes and colors becoming available
4.      Generally dishwasher safe

Stainless Steel Bottle; The bad
1.      May dent if dropped
2.      Possible metallic taste
3.      Heats up in summer temperatures
4.      A lot of these have aluminum inside or plastic caps, both, which contain BPA.
5.      Must be a "full" stainless steel bottle including interior. Also must be "food grade" or else it will not be.

Aluminum Bottles; The good
1.      Light-weight
2.      "Cool" looking

Aluminum Bottles; The bad
1.      Most aluminum water bottles are not BPA free. Bottles marked "BPA free" may contain the chemical. Recently however bottles were tested in Canada and a brand claiming to be BPA free contained the chemical. They may also have plastic linings inside which leaks into water.
2.      Easily dents
3.      Difficult to clean

With all the risks and benefits of the bottles choosing the one for your lifestyle can be difficult. I personally would choose a sturdy glass bottle with a silicone case to protect yourself from harm should it break. Second choice would be the Stainless Steele bottle should you find one that is 100% food grade steel interior.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Paper or .... Paper?

In Oct 2013 Portland Or, passed a city wide ban on the use of plastic bags. This was an effort to drastically reduce the amount of energy and product wasted on a mostly single use Item. This ban seemed to have caused quite a reaction within the city, although I don't think anyone would argue that plastic bags aren't a waste of materials, energy and production costs, it begs the question do we really know what goes into a typical plastic bag, and how much of an impact are we making by choosing not to use them? This provides us with an excellent opportunity to reflect on the use and production of these items and why the city took such drastic measures to stop the wide use of them. 

Plastic bags come with a huge environmental impact, spanning from large energy consumption, limited life span, rapidly increasing landfill percentage, and an in ability to biodegrade naturally. This isn't news to anyone, however the single use mentality of these items seems to so ingrained in most people’s daily life that we tend to forget about these huge impacts that we are making everyday. Plastic bags can be used for so much more than the act of transporting groceries to ones house. A quick google search reveals plenty of ways to re use these bags. In a perfect world we would all make a conscious effort to reduce our use, and waste of plastic bags, however it is clear that we have yet to do so as a whole.

The city of Portland  took matters into there own hands after trying to place a ban on plastic bags for some time. Watching the success in other cities in America, the city council voted “5-0 to phase out plastic checkout bags at an estimated 5,000 restaurants and retailers, including food carts, farmers markets and corner stores”. (Slovic, Beth) This forces the people of Portland to choose paper bags or reusable bags when shopping. Lots of Portlanders have risen to the challenge and started only using reusable bags, to mitigate the waste of plastic as well as paper bags. The ban has greatly reduced the use and waste of plastic bags within Portland’s city limits. Hopefully with all the effort given into reducing the cities’ consumption of plastic bags shoppers will reflect on the impact they are having and start incorporating the reuse mentality to other items such as the paper bag they are given instead of the once plastic bag. 

Recycling made easy...For kids!

One of the largest groups of our population are children. While some may underestimate their resourcefulness, they have the ability to make a change for our environment's future.

Kids, you have a chance to make a difference by recycling plastics responsibly!

What is recycling? Recycling means taking old discarded materials and finding a way to make new products with them.

Where can I recycle? You can look online to find your nearest recycling center or contact your local city for recycling options. You can also find ways to recycle on your own, by reusing plastics in your home for crafts, storage, etc.

Some of the sites you can use for recycling ideas are: 

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Everyone's actions make a difference. Start recycling plastics today! 
Here are a couple things YOU can do to get started:

1. If your city does not have a recycling program, write a letter to your local city leaders asking them to add a recycling program.
2. Talk to your neighbors about collecting old plastic containers and other materials that they may be regularly just throwing away. 

With spring and summer upon us, here are a couple ways to reuse plastics you have around the house.

 You can create planters for various plants: 

 Or create a bird feeder:
 You can also repurpose old plastics into new toys!

It is important to have a way to safely recycle old plastics and other materials. Talk to an adult for more ideas and work together to keep our environment free of excess plastic waste!

Plastics: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Degradable

     Apparently there are very distinct characteristics of these three terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Degradable.  First off, plastics can be made into any of these three categories which is wonderful news for the future of this planet (well that is if everybody decided to go the compostable route).  To be compostable, plastic must undergo strict regulations during its degradation.  It must: biodegrade (break down into: water, carbon dioxide, and biomass at the same rate as paper); disintegrate so that it is no longer distinguishable within the mass of broken down materials; and it cannot leave any toxic residue after the process of composting.  Oh yeah, and the most important part, it must be capable of future plant growth.  As for biodegradable plastics, they just need to be able to be broken down by microorganisms like bacteria in a natural setting.  With this type of plastic, though, there is not yet a requirement for how long it takes for the process for biodegrading to occur, so theoretically it could take many years to break down and still be called biodegradable.  And degradable simply means it will undergo some change in its chemical make-up overtime, but there is no regulation on how long it takes to break down or how much of a toxic foot print it leaves on the Earth. All of this information stated above can be found in the first link below.

     Making plastics compostable is a wonderful step in the right direction, but is creating compostable plastics really helping the environment?  When I first noticed compostable plastics at the hotel I work at, we were able to sort the utensils, cups, etc. into the compost bin.  However, it was only a few months later when the waste management company my work goes through told us to no longer throw those into the compost bin, but rather they will have to be placed in the trash.  Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?  Yes and no.  First of all compostable plastics will still go under biodegradation where it will break down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass over time.  It will take longer than in these processing plants, but it will still occur.  The problem then is these items are being thrown into the trash where they will sit in a landfill and not be recycled as per their intended purpose; no beneficial plant production from its decomposition.  I also recently walked into a health-food grocery store where the cafeteria had three or four bins for sorted food waste.  There was a sign over the compost bin, however, that said to not place the utensils (compostable plastics) into the compost bin and rather to place them in the trash.  I feel that creating compostable plastics is a step in the right direction for sure, and the thinking is righteous, but how can we create a more efficient way to get rid of these items?  Why are they no longer allowed in with the other compostables?

     One huge problem lies in the misunderstandings of identification of compostable plastics by not only the home consumer, but by the larger companies that run facilities to break down and recycle these products.  A good step would be to make sure all products are easily recognizable so that the recyclers can place items where they need to go.  Compostable plastics are still in their infancy and there are kinks still yet needing to be worked out.