Posts Tagged ‘plastic’

Ask the Sustainability Coordinator

Naturally I get lots of questions about sustainability and the environment. So I thought that from time to time I would share some of the most commonly asked questions with you. 

Q: Can I recycle this cup from _____________ (insert the name of a fast food restaurant here)?

 A: If the cup has a waxy coating (see picture to the right) it cannot be recycled. These cups are made of multiple types of materials and that makes it difficult for the recycler to identify the components.

If the cup does not have a waxy surface (see picture to the left), it can be recycled. To be sure, take a look at the bottom of the cup, there you should see the three chasing arrows (recycling) symbol. This means that the cup (or lid) can be recycled. Plastic straws can be recycled as well!

Photo Source: Dental Excellence and Make and Takes


Wordless Wednesday




How to care for reusable shopping bags

I am beginning to see more and more shoppers using reusable shopping bags. These bags are great for the environment but not so great for your health if you don’t care for them properly.

 New studies show that reusable bags may harbor bacteria (e. coli and salmonella) from raw produce or meat. If you keep your bags in the car so you will not forget them…then risk is even greater.


 To keep the bags clean and bacteria free follow these tips…..

 •Wash the bags regularly.

•Don’t store the bags in the car when it’s warm outside (or really sunny)……as bacteria thrive in heat.

•Dry your bags in the sun when you can …..sunlight kills bacteria.

•Designate specific bags for raw meat and for produce…you may even want to use a plastic produce bag for raw meat and produce.

 Now you’re probably saying to yourself “That’s too much work, I’ll just go back to plastic bags.” But before you abandon the reusable bags remember these important facts……

  • The average person will use over 350 bags in a single year.

 • In 1999, more than 14 million trees were cut down to produce 10 billion paper bags that were used by Americans that year.

• One paper grocery bag requires 1 gallon of water to make (yes, 1 gallon per bag).

• The manufacturing of paper bags actually uses far more resources and creates more pollution than the manufacturing of plastic bags; however, paper bags are compostable and biodegradable.

• Plastic bags never actually biodegrade; instead, they photodegrade, which means the sun breaks them down into tinier and tinier pieces until they eventually mix back into the soil and water, to be consumed by plants, animals, fish – and therefore you and me.

• Plastic bags are produced from petroleum (oil).

• In New York City, one less grocery bag per person would reduce waste by five million pounds and save $250,000 in disposal costs.

You’re doing a great service by bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store….your environment thanks you!

 Source: Simple Organic

Can I recycle plastic sandwich bags and saran wrap?  features an “Earth Talk” column which answers questions about the environment. A Sustainable Life will occasionally share some of these Q&A’s with you.

 Dear EarthTalk: Where do you recycle plastic stuff like sandwich bags, Saran wrap and plastic grocery store wrappers? Can they just go in with other plastics in the recycling bin? There never seems to be any information available about this.

— Renee La-Fountaine, Lake Hughes, CA

Clinging plastic like Saran wrap is difficult to recycle because the resin it contains that gives it wrapping power cannot be extracted without massive amounts of energy -­ more than it would take to make it new from scratch. And given that it’s usually soiled with some kind of food, used plastic wrap should always just go right into the trash. Pictured: A 1961 magazine ad for Handi-Wrap.
© Pink Ponk Studios, courtesy Flickr

The reason you don‘t hear much about recycling these types of plastic films is that most municipalities don‘t take back items intended to wrap food. One exception may be sandwich bags, which are made from easy-to-recycle polyethylene, as long as any hard (i.e. “Ziploc”) components are removed and they are rinsed free of any food debris or stains.

For that matter, if you are going to the trouble to wash them, you may as well dry and reuse them at home a few times before relegating them to the recycling bin. There are even small countertop racks available for hanging plastic bags to dry before reusing them.

Clinging plastic like Saran wrap is problematic for recyclers because the resin that it contains (to give it wrapping power) cannot be re-extracted without massive amounts of energy—more than it takes to make it new from scratch. And given that it‘s usually soiled with some kind of food, used plastic wrap should always just go right into the trash.

Other non-recyclable plastic films include dark-colored plastic bags, bags with handles or drawstrings, and anything else designed to be wrapped around food. Since you can‘t even rinse or recycle these kinds of plastics, it‘s better to avoid them altogether and invest in some reusable containers to store leftovers.

Another option is to use plastic grocery store shopping bags (though they are increasingly being phased out) to wrap your food leftovers in. Many municipalities and most stores that provide such bags accept them for recycling, so once you‘re done with them they can be recycled or returned to the store, after which they can be melted down and incorporated into weather- and rot-resistant window and door frames, decking (such as Trex), palettes, pipes and other long-lasting hard goods. Like with sandwich and other bags you intend to recycle, make sure plastic grocery bags are clean before you turn them in for recycling.

If you are a Ziploc bag or plastic wrap fanatic but want to do the right thing by the environment, look for plastic food storage film or bags made from biodegradable polymers. Some popular brand names to keep an eye out for at Whole Foods and elsewhere are Eco Wrap, EcoFlex and BioBag. These plastics—some of which are made from agricultural scraps left over from corn crops—can go right in with yard waste or other compostables and will break down over time accordingly just like cardboard or food scraps. With time major brands will undoubtedly be offering similar products.

But even though there may in fact be “greener” plastic out there, reducing our reliance on disposable bags altogether should be the ultimate goal. Luckily many grocery chains are hip to greening their own operations and image, and are giving away or selling for a nominal amount reusable canvas shopping bags so customers don‘t have to choose between wasting plastic and paper at the checkout line.

Thanks to The Good Human for introducing me to this column.

Takeout Containers: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Daily Green  has devised a list of the best (and worst) takeout containers in terms of the environment. As I read the article the first thing that came to mind was the aluminum container in our fridge that holds leftovers from our favorite Mexican Restaurant. I also often wonder about how much pollution is caused by those cute little boxes from Chinese restaurants. But I was surprised to learn of other containers which are bad for the environment.

1 Pint Chinese / Asian Take out Container 500/CS

  1. Styrofoam (clamshell packaging, soup containers, coffee cups)-The Worst 
  2. Plastic Containers (deli salad containers, yogurt cups, ice cream dishes) 
  3. Plastic/Paper Bags (no explanation needed) 
  4. Cardboard Boxes (chinese take-out, birthday cake) 
  5. Bio-Products (Socrates Café) 
  6. Aluminum Foil (burrito wrapping, baked potatoes) 
  7. Recycled Paper Products (napkins, paper towels) 
  8. Edible Containers made from food (bread bowl, ice cream cone, tortilla bowl/taco salad) 
  9. Inedible containers made from food (banana leaves, cornhusk wrapped tamale) 
  10. Bring Your Own (canvas bags, tupperware)-The Best


 As with any product there is good and bad….pros and cons. But how often do you consider how your food is packaged? Have you ever thought to ask that your baked potato come to your table aluminum foil free…or to bring your own container to the salad bar?

Photos: The WebstaurantStore, Keetsa

A Tax on Plastic Shopping Bags


No matter how environmentally savvy we are, at one point in our lives we have used a plastic shopping bag. Sometimes we reuse the bags, (I use them as trash can liners for smaller trash cans) but most often they end up in landfills. It’s become something you do without thought…you buy groceries and you carry them home in a plastic bag. But the way we think of these disposable bags could change if Georgia joins thirteen others states considering establishing a tax on plastic shopping bags.   

Currently Washington, D.C. is the only US city to successfully institute such a tax. In the first month the 5-cent tax brought in about $150,000 and nearly $1 million since January. Although the revenue brings in much- needed funds to the city, the most interesting statistic that has evolved is that plastic bag usage is down from 22.5 million bags per month in 2009 to only 3 million bags during the first month of the tax.

 Skip Bag Save River Logo

 So how does the tax work?  Every retailer that sells food or alcohol is required to charge a 5-cent fee per disposable paper or plastic bag. The business keeps 1 cent, or 2 cents if it offers a rebate when you bring your own shopping bag. The remaining proceeds (3 or 4 cents) are sent to the Anacostia River Protection Fund to provide reusable bags, education and environmental clean-ups.

Please share your thoughts on this issue? Would a 5-cent tax on disposable shopping bags move you to bring reusable bags? Knowing the benefit to the environment would you support such a tax? 

 Thanks to ABC news for sharing this story.