Monday, February 28, 2011

Reusing Items - A Responsible Alternative

As many stores are making an effort to switch from plastic to paper, one product that is difficult for them to replace with an environmentally safe product is cling wrap that is used to preserve food. Currently, www.4myearth.com points out that wrapping a sandwich and snacks for a child's lunch uses an estimated amount of 330 feet of plastic wrap per year. When multiplied by 450 students per year, one small elementary school uses 148,500 feet of plastic wrap. This could all be eliminated if we got in the habbit of reusing things.

Sandwich wraps and lunch bags are items that can be easily reused. Kidskonserve.com offers PVC free and phthalate free sandwich wraps that will last up to several years. They are made out of safe non-toxic cloths that are heavy metal free and have a coating that will decompose eventually without any harm to the environment. These are hand or machine washable.

Other items that we can learn to re-use, in addition to grocery bags which have been covered in several other blogs include: glass baby food jars, food and beverage containers, cups, plates, writing pens, razors, diapers, towels, rubber bands, twisties, boxes, and packaging material. Visiting garage sales and purchasing items there also helps us get into a mentality of reusing items rather than purchasing new. Or one can donate their items to be reused. The important step is for us to change our habits and become creative on ways to reuse most everything that surrounds us. Sharing clothes, equipment, computers with neighbors, family, or friends is great way to reduce spending a reuse items.

Reuse, reuse, reuse - The second R of responsible living!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover, and Remember - The Five R's of Responsible Living!

It seems that our research has brought us to recognize the fact that while the debate about paper and plastic bags will continue, the effort to reduce the waste that we create should ever be on our minds. We can do that by learning to reuse items, recycle items that can be recycled, recover the impact we have already had on nature by planting a tree or donating to a green company, and most importantly, we should remember to do all these things.

I would like to blog about how we can take easy steps to do all five of these things. Today's blog will focus on an easy way to reduce waste.

There is no question that the plastic waste from water bottles is excessive. Americans buy half a million plastic bottles every week, which is enough to circle the globe five times. Also, the manufacturing of plastic bottles uses up enough oil to fuel over one million cars.

One easy way to reduce the waste of plastic water bottles is to purchase stainless steel water bottles. Stainless steel is a BPA free alternative that is 100% recyclable and therefore less harmful to the environment. It has excellent hygienic properties as stainless steel instruments are used as surgical instruments and medical implants. They have also been widely used in the food and drink processing, catering, etc. Because of the smooth surface of stainless steel, bacterial has a difficult time adhering to the surface and surviving. So stainless steel water bottles are an excellent alternative to plastic.

The next tip about what to fill the stainless steel water bottle with is found by watching this short video http://storyofstuff.org/bottledwater/. You will be glad you did because it will change the way you drink, and the way you think.

Under the Sea

Under the Sea?




Humans complain about how plastic bags are hurting our environment, but what about our friendly creatures under the sea? How does our waste affect them? Plastic bags take over 1,000 years to decompose and get into streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans. The harm they do under the sea may be worse than what plastic bags do above. Plastic bags are made for convenience. Americans need to have a greater awareness of how their actions are affecting animals that don’t have a voice that can tell Americans to not liter and throw waste into the oceans. Americans throw over a billion plastic bags a year just from one item purchases at the mall, grocery and drug stores. Since plastic bags are made from oil, throwing a billion plastic bags away is equivalent to dumping 12 million barrels of oil. According to the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, more than a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from eating or getting entangled in plastic. The conservation group estimates that 50 percent of all marine litter is some form of plastic. There are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

We need to make a difference in our environment both land and sea. Continued awareness will hopefully help reduce the amount of paper bags used by consumers. As Gandhi knowledgably stated “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/08/10/plastic_bags

Sunday, February 27, 2011

ReUseIt

I found a very informational website that elaborates on the pros/cons of paper and plastic bags and as I continued to read the details it really all boils down to the fact that plastic nor paper are good choices, but that we should try to make reusable bags our best option as opposed to paper or plastic. The site reuseit has a section that helps inform readers about different myths on paper and plastic bags . There are four main issues that paper and plastic bags have in common that in the end proves that neither paper or plastic is our only option. The first issue is the amount of energy and natural resources is takes  to produce paper and plastic bags, in turn showing that it takes four times as much energy to produce paper bags vs plastic. Other issues include pollution, recycling, and degradability- which talks about the facts that paper and plastic bags hardly degrad in our landfills due to the lack of important elements to make that process happen.

I feel like this website is very important for every one to read to see good hard facts on the pros and cons of paper and plastic and that those are not our only options, and that we should be thinking about reusing bags and that canvas bags should be our ideal choice.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Environmentally friendly plastic -


It may sound like a paradox, but a few soft drink companies have already adopted this new type of bottle, and are proudly promoting it.
This new type of plastic bottle is called Plantbottle, contains up to 30% plant-based material. That plant material, which is by-product of sugar cane and corn that have been processed, replaces approximately one-third of the petroleum-based material that traditionally is used to make PET plastic bottles.  Plantbottle by the end of 2010 has helped to reduce the use of an amount of oil equivalent to about 3 million gallons of gasoline.
 The company’s vision is to develop recyclable plastic bottles made from 100% plant-based waste - turning waste into a resource. Plantbottles are designed to be recycled, rather than biodegradable, since from the view of its developers, it makes better sense from both an environmental and economic perspective to capture the raw material and energy contained in a plastic bottle and use it again and again, instead of losing it as it degrades. By designing the plastic packages for recycling and investing in programs to drive collection and recovery of the used bottles, it is possible use the energy and material in a PlantBottle package over and over again.
A product's carbon footprint typically is thought of as the measure of the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted over the full life of that product - from obtaining the raw materials, through the manufacturing process, the use of the product, and finally to the disposal of the product. The footprint may include the recycling and/or the reuse of the product as well. The substitution of renewable plant-based material for fossil-based petroleum resources in making PlantBottle packaging provides for a reduction of potential carbon dioxide emissions associated with end-of-life destruction of the package as compared to a conventional 100% petroleum-based bottle, because some of the carbon atoms in PlantBottle packaging come from a renewable source, sugarcane, and emission of those carbon atoms would be offset by the next sugarcane crop’s use of carbon dioxide in the plant’s photosynthesis process.
Although this information sounds great, one might ask himself/herself: is this new kind of plastic actually better for the environment? Considering the fact that harvesting a plant requires the use of water, energy, fertilizers, pesticides and land, and has significant impact on the ecology, one might doubt this new wonder plastic. However, Plantbottle developers have worked with leading academic, government and NGO partners, and researched around the world to find a source for a more environmentally responsible bottle that wouldn’t harm the ecology or people of the region where it is produced, or compete with food. The only source currently meeting these criteria and approved for use in PlantBottle packaging is sugarcane based ethanol from Brazil.
Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is considered to be an “Advanced Renewable Fuel” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is the only first generation biofuel widely recognized by thought leaders globally for its unique environmental and social performance:
Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Sugarcane is a renewable, fast-growing plant with a high capacity to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
  • Most sugarcane expansion in Brazil is on degraded pastures that actually generate a carbon credit as the sugarcane captures significant amounts of carbon.
  • Brazil’s sugar and ethanol plants generate their own electricity by burning sugarcane byproducts and generating surplus electricity.
  • For every unit of fossil energy consumed in the ethanol production cycle, more than eight units of renewable energy are typically produced.
Lower Impact on Biodiversity
  • Over 99% of Brazilian sugarcane plantations are located over 2,000km from the Amazon.
  • The Brazilian government has established an agro-ecological zoning program limiting the expansion of sugarcane to 7.5% of the Brazilian territory and prohibiting planting sugarcane in over 90% of the country, including the Amazon and other important ecosystems.
  • Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is more productive than any alternative in terms of biofuel per hectare of land required.
Effective Cultivation Practices
  • Brazilian sugarcane fields require practically no irrigation because rainfall is abundant and reliable.
  • Brazilian sugarcane plantations are less dependent on industrial fertilizers, due to the innovative use of organic fertilizers from recycled production residuals.
  • Brazilian sugarcane fields have relatively low levels of soil loss thanks to the semi-perennial nature of the sugarcane that is typically replanted every 5-7 years.
  • Nearly half of all sugarcane in Brazil is harvested mechanically.
Avoided Food Competition
  • While sugarcane production has increased steadily in Brazil, there has been no drop in food production. In addition to sugar, Brazil is a leading exporter of beef, coffee, orange juice, poultry and soybeans.
  • Most sugarcane expansion is on degraded pastures.
  • Crop rotation systems to promote soil recovery are typically used in Brazil, where 15-20% of the sugarcane crop is removed annually and replaced with other crops like beans, soybean and peanuts, supporting the supplies of these foods in the market.

Plantbottle is currently being used by different soft drink companies such as: Vitamin Water, and Coca-Cola, and may be just the start of a new, environmentally friendly, renewable plastic that will get used for a variety of products. 



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Amazon's Reusable Tote Program

Just a little over a month ago a large online retailer started to expand upon their existing program to include a third option to the much maligned paper and plastic. Whilst Amazon does not offer paper and plastic as an option to carry out since items are shipped directly to the customer’s home or business. However, with this in mind, Amazon still has a large carbon footprint by sending packages in cardboard and all the associated wrapping of the product. One way to attack this problem was to introduce the frustration-free packaging which aimed to reduce the number of parts required to wrap the product being sold. Over time this has a cumulative impact of reducing the total amount of waste or need to recycle containers. Now, Amazon is trying to introduce another concept that tackles the problem a bit further. This program is now offering deliveries to be wrapped in reusable totes. This is a pilot program that will only be available to the residents of the state of Washington at this time. How it works, it allows people to receive people to receive purchases up to twice a week in those new style containers. They are sealed to keep Washington’s climate at bay from harming or affecting the product. There is no fee for this service. Residents have a choice to send this back or keep it for themselves as deliveries come and go. Kind of reminds me of the day where milkmen came by to drop off the milk. Now we have the option to return those bags to Amazon to be used for further transaction. This effectively removes the environmental cost of shipping packages in brown boxes. However, there is still the challenge of carbon emissions from the FEDEX or UPS vehicles as deliveries are made. That will eventually be addressed by emerging technologies of hybrids, natural gas, or electric vehicles. I think this is an interesting concept because this attempts to circumvent the problem of choosing between plastic or paper. Of which, those two are not really viable long term solutions to transportation of goods. Read more about this program at https://tote.amazon.com/AmazonToteLearnMore. There is also an excellent FAQ http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=200497930

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plastic Pellet Pollution


While there is a considerable amount of information out there about the pollution caused by plastic grocery bags, there is not as much publicity about the plastic pellets which they are made from.  This blog post will investigate the pollution caused as a side effect of production process.  We will investigate two studies into this little known variety of plastic pollution.  First let us cover what, exactly, a plastic pellet is.  The plastic pellets are also called resin, and come in a variety of shapes and colors.  Based on an EPA study we will look at next, there was an estimated 60 billion pounds of resin manufactured in the US a year in the early 90s.

The first report we will look at is from the EPA and dates from December of 1992, which gives you some idea of how long the problem of plastic pellet pollution has been a concern.  This study was done based on the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, the idea was to help the plastic industry better control this environmental danger through the development and implementation of voluntary pellet-control programs.  Through this study the EPA determined two primary methods of the pellets getting into the water, the first through CSO and storm-water discharges and the other through direct spills (such as during cargo handling).  According to the study the problem of plastic pellets was originally reported in the 70s, and now affects the whole world’s oceans.  As a result of the findings of the EPA study and with the collaboration of the group SPI (Society of the Plastic Industries), several programs were put into place to reduce the amount of plastic pellets finding their way into the watershed and harbors.  These programs included Operation Clean Sweep (an education campaign for the plastic industry) and the SPI 1991 Pellet Retention Environmental Code.

Now we turn to another body of research, this time from the Marine Sciences Department of the University of the Aegean in Greece, which investigates the pollution in the coastal areas of Lesvos Island.  The report states that plastic pellets are found on beaches around the world as well as the sea floor.  According to the study plastic pellets were found on all five sandy beaches that were sampled, even though the sampling only took placeon the surface of the sand.  Based on the research it was concluded that 2/3 of the pellets found were made of polyethylene; which is the type of pellets that plastic bags are made from.
If you are interested in reading the studies that this blog post is on here they are.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Weight of Paper and Plastic

We all have heard the hype about recycling, how it is great for the environment, and how un-recycled grocery bags can end up in landfills or in bodies of water. Yet, when most people get home from the grocery store they do not recycle the bag they had just used because, well, it’s just one bag. What harm could just one bag do? The lesser discussed aspect of the paper vs plastic debate is the actual impact that one grocery bag can have on the environment. To put things in perspective, 1,000 small plastic bags weigh 11 pounds, 1,000 medium plastic bags weigh 24 pounds, and 1,000 large plastic bags weigh 38.8 pounds. 1,000 paper bags weigh 140 pounds and take up considerably more room than plastic bags. A stack of 2,000 paper bags stands about seven feet high, and a stack of 2,000 plastic bags measures just over 7 inches. For a family who goes shopping 3 times per week and uses about 6 shopping bags each trip to the store, you will have used about 1,000 bags in one year. If you use paper bags, you will have racked up 140 pounds worth of trash in a landfill that stands 3.5 feet high. If you use large plastic bags, you will have contributed 38.8 pounds worth of plastic to a landfill which stands about 3.5 inches high. If you think about the amount of waste just you and your family have contributed, it’s mind-boggling. Factor in, say, 1,000 families in your neighborhood and you can begin to see how serious not recycling can be, and how much space the waste we produce from grocery bags alone takes up.

http://www.ecoproducts.com/food_services/bags/food_service_grocery_bags_order.htm
http://www.tn.gov/environment/tn_consv/archive/paperplastic.pdf

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Paper & Plastic Bag Manufacturers

Of the innumerable amount of products being made today all of them require materials, and energy to produce.  Whether it be electricity to power machines, or natural resources like wood to create paper, everything we make has a certain impact on our planet and our world is constantly increasing in our production of manufactured products.
There are many Plastic and Paper bag manufacturers in the world today and because of the ever increasing awareness of our polluted enviroment these manufacturers are forced to look to newer, more enviromentally friendly ways of making their product.  While many of these companies still have to maintain their business (as us consumers still need their products) they are being held accountable for the materials, and energy they consume to create them.
Here are three leading manufacturing companies who have pages on their websites specifically available to clients and consumers explaining their new and/or improved production methods and ethics. They also provide information and statistics on enviromental impacts of their products as well as common misunderstandings about the harmfulness of their products.

Duro
http://www.durobag.com/Content/GreenInitiatives.aspx

International Plastics
http://www.interplas.com/packaging-earth-friendly

American Plastic
http://apmbags.com/node/268

Monday, February 14, 2011

Oregon Plastic Bag Ban-First Hearing

First Hearing on News Channel 8

This video was posted after the first hearing on the bill to ban plastic bags in Oregon. This would make Oregon the first state in the nation to ban plastic bags. With this ban also comes a $0.05 "tax" on paper bags. Although this is an extreme change on people's norm and habit it is a change that is possible. As one of the ladies interviewed stated "I don't think a ban on plastic bags can hurt anything, only help." I think her opinion has a great point in the fact that it's only going to take people out of their comfort zone and encourage/force Oregonians to use paper bags, better yet reusable bags. We will see where the bill to ban plastic bags goes from here, but it is nice to see Oregon be the first to take a stance on helping the environment.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Plastic bag ban debate : Green milestone for Oregon or a new tax on groceries?

Published: Tuesday, February 08, 2011, 7:17 PM     Updated: Tuesday, February 08, 2011, 7:45 PM
bagban.jpgSen. Mark Haas shows a reusable grocery bag in a debate on a bill to ban plastic bags.
SALEM -- Banning plastic checkout bags would either write another proud chapter in Oregon's green heritage or create a costly and even potentially hazardous nuisance for consumers, state legislators heard Tuesday. 

Business lobbyists, environmental activists and taxpayer advocates packed a Senate committee hearing into the evening to present widely divergent views on what is shaping up as the top environmental issue of the session. 

The legislation, Senate Bill 536, has won powerful support from a bipartisan group of legislators, environmental groups and the grocery industry. They've crafted a proposal that outlaws the single-use plastic bag for retail check-out while offering consumers the alternatives of paying 5 cents for a paper bag or bringing in their own reusable bag. The bill offers some exceptions, including pharmacies and restaurants.

But officials from the plastics industry -- worried that Oregon could be the first state in the country to ban the ubiquitous featherweight plastic bags -- have mounted a full-court press against the bill, hiring lobbyists and presenting studies critical of the ban. 

Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, one of the bill's chief sponsors, repeatedly tangled with Mark Daniels, a vice president at Hilex Poly Co., one of the country's largest plastic bag manufacturers. 

"These bags have been hard on Oregon's environment and even harder on Oregon's economy," said Hass at a hearing held by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He said that the last time Oregon faced a similar litter problem -- in 1971 -- it became the first state in the nation to pass a bottle-deposit law. He also said the plastic bags have largely eclipsed the use of paper bags, which are produced in Oregon and create jobs here. 

Daniels insisted that several studies show that plastic bags account for less than 1 percent of the litter problem and that his company is making major strides in boosting recycling for plastic bags. Some 30,000 retailers around the country now have recycling bins for the bags, he said. 

Hass scoffed at that. 

"I think Oregonians would love to recycle their bags," he said, "and if they could, we wouldn't be here today." 

Daniels said that while recycling rates for bags seem low, part of the reason is that consumers rely on the bags for a number of other home uses. Overall, he said that 13 percent of bags are recycled, although some critics said the percentage is lower than that. 

Daniels and other critics of the legislation also launched heated debate when they contended that reusable bags raise sanitation concerns. He cited studies claiming that the reusable bags often become contaminated with e-coli, salmonella and other harmful bacteria because few consumers wash them regularly. 

"What a choice," Daniels said in his prepared testimony, "forcing consumers to either pay a tax on paper bags or place themselves in harm's way with the hidden consequences of 'reusable' bags." 

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said he and his wife have shopped with reusable bags for years without a problem. He said the charge reminded him of the sanitation fears that used to be raised by critics of the bottle-deposit law. 

He criticized one study cited by Daniels, noting that it was paid for by an arm of the plastics industry. "It seems like they bought and paid for it...which makes it suspect to me." 

Environmental groups – particularly ones dealing with rivers and the ocean -- have pushed for disposable plastic bag bans for years. So have recyclers. 

Jeff Murray of Far West Fibers of Beaverton said that plastic bags frequently clog the sorting machines at his company's recycling facility and cause as much as seven percent of his paper recyclables to be rejected and sent to a landfill because of plastic contamination. 

At the same time, the bill has become a target for several conservative groups, includingAmericans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity, the Cascade Policy Institute and theTaxpayers Association of Oregon. 

In this economy, having government increase the cost of going to the grocery store "is not a wise move," said Josh Culling, an official from Americans for Tax Reform. He said a ban would particularly affect low-income Oregonians who are already struggling to pay for their groceries. 

The conservative groups have directed much of their heat at Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, one of the chief sponsors of the bill, who has a staunchly conservative voting record. 

However, Atkinson remained firm in support of the measure, saying the bill would head off a patchwork of regulations imposed by local governments. And he said the state should be doing what it can to support the wood-products industry. 

"What makes this work really well is that Oregon doesn't make anything that is plastic," he said. "But we do grow a lot of trees." 

Joe Gilliam, a grocery industry lobbyist who helped negotiate the terms of the bill, said he's become convinced that the plastics industry can't solve the litter problem created by the disposable plastic bags. 

As a result, Gilliam said the legislation represents a workable way for retailers to bow to pressure to move away from the use of plastic bags. If plastic bags were simply banned, he said, grocers would face a big increase in costs. 

Plastic bags cost about a penny apiece, while paper bags range from four to six cents each. Imposing a five-cent fee will allow grocers to recover their costs, he said. 

Backers of the bill say they intend to begin the process of moving the bill out of committee soon. Hass said he hasn't counted votes but is encouraged by the bipartisan support for the measure. 

-- Jeff Mapes