Sunday, March 28, 2010

Green Changes Anyone Can Make (Even Your Mom!)

This post is actually inspired by my mom. She rang me up the other day and told me about a whole slew of eco-friendly changes she’s started making in her life.

Some of them are incredibly simple and almost all of them can be applied to both your home & office. As such, I thought we should do some sharing. Here it is – straight from a Viv Mama:
  1. “We haven’t used paper towels since Christmas”
  2. “I’m not buying paper napkins anymore; we’re using cloth napkins and I just throw them in the laundry”
  3. “We’re using recycled toilet paper; I really don’t mind it at all”
  4. “I’m actually noticing that we’re recycling a lot more too; I’ve even been rinsing out tin foil and those plastic containers that lettuce and spinach come in and putting them in recycling. Raleigh actually takes a lot of stuff”
  5. “I’m even breaking down my Cheez-It boxes!”
  6. “I’m trying to cut back on tissues, but that’s gonna be hard…”
  7. “I almost always bring re-usable bags to the grocery store (even the Indian Grocer!). I try to keep them on the front seat of the car so that I remember them”
  8. “We’re also buying more organic… and cage free for eggs. I was watching this clip from this movie that showed some of the chicken farms. It starts out with these baby chicks on a conveyor belt… and they’re going along… going along… and then they get to the end of this conveyor belt and then there’s this shoot and they slide down it… except they’re all tumbling over each other and everything down this shoot – i really was not ok with it”
    • “Also, they were talking about chickens and how they can take a chicken from birth to slaughter in 7 months now. And how everyone prefers white meat, so they’re breeding these chickens that have such enormous breasts and such weak bones, that they can only take a few steps before they topple over. It’s really pretty sad.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Should I Use Compostable Products (if my city doesn’t offer curbside composting)?

We recently had a very smart question come through from a new Viv business – Crave Catering + Events – based in Brooklyn, NY. After responding, I thought we should share the response with other Vivers who may be wondering the same thing. Enjoy!

The Question Went Like This:

“Are the compostable plates biodegradable…as in if we throw them out and they end up in a landfill somewhere will they biodegrade?
At Crave we currently don’t compost, but we do food recycling. We use a system called bokashi, but we are not able to use that on compostable products… I was hoping to figure out another alternative because I certainly don’t want the plates to end up in a landfill and just sit there.”

My Response:

The bagasse / wheat straw plates are biodegradable, but in an anaerobic environment such as a landfill they will take significantly longer to breakdown (likely a few years… as opposed to 30 days in a commercial composting system or 90 days in a home composting system).
I’d say a few things:
  1. Since composting isn’t offered by your city, you could
    • create a home composting system, or
    • look-up a composting facility near you that may offer pick-up or drop-off using
  2. You may want to check with the folks at Vokashi (Crave’s Bokashi Partner) to see if their system can be used on “bagasse” products specifically. I could see it not working with things like compostable cutlery which have a longer biodegradation cycle, but bagasse products break down quite quickly and in the right amounts it may work with Bokashi.
  3. Obviously, composting the products is ideal and if you can do #1 or #2, fantastic. If not, there are still quite a number of benefits to using compostable products, which I think are pretty powerful. To name a few:
    Less Energy Used –World Centric is able to make >3 bagasse plates for every one styrofoam plate that’s made (and 2 forks for everyone 1 plastic fork)
    • Less Dependence on Petroleum – By using compostables made from sustainable materials we’re reducing our dependence on oil
    • Less Damage via Externalities to Mother Nature – Products like styrofoam (as well as some plastic products) are harmful to the planet in ways beyond the fact that they add to our landfills (e.g., styrofoam often breaks up into small pieces which are toxic to animals & marine life; styrofoam & some plastics also leach toxins into our ground water; the list goes on)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Compostable vs Biodegradable – They Mean 2 Very, Very Different Things

Increasingly products are being made with “compostable” and “biodegradable” on their labels (we should know ;-)).
But here’s the little known fact – the word “compostable” actually means something, and it’s definition is tightly controlled by International Standards… whereas the word “biodegradable” has a very loose, almost meaningless definition.
UPDATE (8/3/2010): Viv Video | “Biodegradable Packaging vs Compostable Packaging – DON’T get Greenwashed”

Let’s talk about it in the context of the new generation of eco-friendly plastics.

So, what is the difference between compostable and biodegradable plastic?

Well, the simplest way to identify a truly compostable product is to just look it up at theBiodegradable Products Institute (BPI) (the leading authority on compostable products).
As mentioned in our post on compostable cutlery that isn’t actually compostable, the long definition goes as follows:
Compostable Plastic“is capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site as part of an available program, such that the plastic is not visually distinguishable and breaks down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, at a rate consistent with known compostable materials (e.g. cellulose), and leaves no toxic residue.” – as defined by the American Society for Testing and Measurement (ASTM-D6400 & ASTM-D6868).
According to ASTM D6400 and D6868 (and the European equivalent EN13432), compostable plastics must meet the following three criteria:
  1. Biodegradability – Determined by measuring the amount of CO2 produced over a certain time period by the biodegrading plastic. The standards require 60% (90% in Europe) conversion of carbon into carbon dioxide within 180 days for resins made from single polymer and 90% conversion of carbon into carbon dioxide for co-polymers or polymer mixes.
  2. Disintegration – Measured by sieving the material to determine the biodegraded size and that less than 10% remains on a 2mm screen within 120 days.
  3. Eco-Toxicity – Measured by testing the concentrations of heavy metals to ensure that they are below the limits set by the standards and by testing plant growth by mixing the compost with soil in different concentrations and comparing plant growth in test and controlled compost samples.
So that’s the standard for “compostable plastics”.
Biodegradable Plastic, on the other hand, is plastic which will degrade from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, fungi) over a period of time. Note, however that there is no requirement for “eco-toxicity” and no time requirement for the biodegradation of biodegradable plastic.
The ASTM standard for compostability is applied to a range of products, but most typically is found on bags and food service ware, including: cups, cutlery, plastic coated paper items, and even bagasse and sugar cane products.
The rate of biodegradation for compostable products varies based on composition of the product, thickness, as well as composting conditions. Commercial composting systems, where compost piles are turned and typically reach high temperatures, often result in a much faster rate of biodegradation. (World Centric, a compostable food packaging manufacturer, actually has afantastic chart showing high level estimates of biodegradation of their products in home composting vs commercial composting systems.)
In short, the term “biodegradable” is typically a term used to green wash products and make them seem good for the environment.
So, have you ever purchased “biodegradable” supplies and wondered if they actually break down? Tell us about an experience you’ve had.
And next time you’re making a purchase, make sure to purchase products that are certified compostable.
For more information, we suggest the following resources:
Biodegradable Products Institute
US Composting Council
World Centric’s FAQ

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sun Chips New 100% Compostable Bag (and Video)

As I’m sure some of y’all know, Sun Chips has recently started rolling out its new 100% compostable bag in Canadian retail stores. Very cool.
I had heard about this a few weeks back, but only recently had a chance to scope out the time lapse video they put together that shows the bag breaking down in ~14 weeks in a commercial composting system that reaches 55 degrees C.
There have been a few different write-ups on the bag (my favorite is Triple Pundit’s, as a representative from Sun Chips answers some tough questions really well in the comments).
I wanted to highlight the video specifically though, as I think it’s really quite fantastic. Check it out:
Straight from Sun Chips:

“As you might imagine creating a window into this environment was a bit tricky. We built a chamber for composting to take place under typical conditions, but replaced one of the walls with a glass window to see inside. While this gave us a unique view into the composting process, it also created some unforeseen challenges. For example, the glass was more conducive to heat loss than the walls of a typical compost bin. To counteract this force, we had to heat the glass so that it would not cause the compost pile to lose more heat than it normally would.
The results were a way to peer inside an active compost pile with a sample of the new Sun Chips film in plain view. We were careful to keep the conditions typical for a well run compost facility – nothing different than natural conditions for heat and moisture. We then set up a camera to monitor the decomposition and snapped pictures every 15 minutes for 14 weeks. The results are self-evident and demonstrate the ability of this film to decompose in a compost bin fairly quickly.”
Love it. Understanding that this is marketing, I’ll be the first to say that it’s really really powerful marketing, and I think it’s quite moving to see the bag breakdown right before your eyes.
A big kudos to Sun Chips for going the extra mile to get this made – I hope it gets lots of great play across the web.