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Good Things Come in Very Little Packaging

By Paul Rutkovsky

Did you know there is a “plastic garbage island” in the Pacific Ocean that now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States? It’s more like a soup full of non-biodegradable plastic products: from bags to kayaks and millions of tiny plastic pellets, or nurdles—the raw materials for the plastic industry lost or spilled every year—working their way into the sea. Plastic is believed to constitute 90 percent of all rubbish floating in the oceans. The UN Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.

Bioplastics can have a bright future by helping us to decrease our consumption of plastics that are harmful to humans and the environment. Many of the bioplastic products are made from corn, switchgrass, sugar cane, and sweet potatoes. However, manufacturing so-called bioplastics that are friendly is not a simple task. For instance, bioplastics do not magically biodegrade. In fact, biodegradable means susceptible to degradation by microorganisms. But nothing actually breaks down in landfills. Most landfills are, by design, hermetically sealed tombs for waste. They are anti-sustainable designs and are in opposition to the way the earth maintains itself.

A biodegradable product will not necessarily break down if you toss it. A less confusing term is compostable, which means a product that can be returned to the soil in a beneficial manner. However, most bioplastics will only degrade in the tightly controlled conditions of commercial composting units. There is no standard applicable to home composting conditions. Confused? As long as the industry in general operates in a deregulated business environment, each bioplastic product will have a different biodegradable footprint, which in turn will make it impossible to compost the plastic on a large scale. Without enforceable standards, a free-for-all plastics industry will continue to pollute.

There is hope, and many in the bioplastic/compostable business are seriously working towards a cleaner industry. It is better to research a more environmentally-friendly plastic than to continue with the status quo using petroleum-based products. But the bigger question should probably be: “Should we encourage a disposable culture?” Do we simply build a “better” disposable product? I use glass, ceramic mugs, and canvas and paper bags, as much as possible. Of course this is not a reasonable option for everyone, and the industry is always in a self-preservation mode and would rather have us continue to use disposable plastics.

Some products at New Leaf Market are packaged in bioplastic, but at this point it is cost prohibitive to use in large quantities. You can purchase bioplastic cutlery, cups, food containers, plates and bowls at the Green Living Center, 1020 N. Monroe Street, next to Decent Pizza.

For Further Information Please Visit:

Organic Consumers Association
www.organicconsumers.org

International Herald Tribune
www.iht.com

The Independent
www.independent.co.uk

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