Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bio-plastics make methane in landfill

"You can't just do one thing." of Commoner's four summary laws of ecology. It came home for me (again) in a interesting way when I read the article below. I've been worried about what to do with the large amount of bio-plastics entering our campus compost stream, which can only handle so much waste. Charlie (creative food-service guy) obliged me and the Sustainability Committee by worrying about much the same thing without being asked, and deciding to cut back and use regular china plates as much as possible.

Then I helped with a magazine article on packaging, and the editor and I interviewed all these very alpha-type businessmen and women who were in a very big hurry to tell the world about their PLA-based containers, and the small nagging eco-troll that lives in the back of my mind was dinging quietly on an alarm bell.

Then I read this (below), a front page Guardian headline.

But wait a minute. The problem is, PLA breaks down in landfills to form methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than the CO2 that would have been made by making regular plastics. Does the problem go away if methane is used to make electricity and/or heat from landfill gas? Then we're just back to CO2, right?

But you can't just do one thing. Everything is connected to everything else. What about the hungry people in the world? Biofuels are one problem. Bioplastics just add to that problem.

Just try not to use very much packaging at all, I think, is likely the best rule. Buy bulk. Grow a garden. Raise grass-fed livestock. Recycle food waste through pigs and chickens and other worthy critters low enough on the food chain to enjoy that kind of thing. I fed our sheep a pear core last night, and they loved it. Now just where Aimee got pears from in Maine in May is another question we won't ask just right now. One problem at a time.

If you have a job that requires packaging, try to find a way around it, like Keith the head custodian with his bulk shipments of green-cleaning liquids that come in reusable containers. That one saves money too. Highly recommended eco-tip.

'Tis the season for composting winter animal bedding on the Womerlippi Farm. I think I'm going to finish the newspaper, drink my coffee, and go make another compost heap. At least I know that works. And it will help us grow more food, which will reduce the amount of food needed elsewhere in the world because, well, I won't be buying as much and neither will all the people we sell or give food away to.

"Dig for Victory." "New" eco-slogan. One we know more or less for sure works in most places because we've been doing it for so long in those places.

"Sustainable" Bio-Plastics can damage the environment.

John Vidal, Guardian, UK

The worldwide effort by supermarkets and industry to replace conventional oil-based plastic with eco-friendly "bioplastics" made from plants is causing environmental problems and consumer confusion, according to a Guardian study.

The substitutes can increase emissions of greenhouse gases on landfill sites, some need high temperatures to decompose and others cannot be recycled in Britain.

Many of the bioplastics are also contributing to the global food crisis by taking over large areas of land previously used to grow crops for human consumption.

The market for bioplastics, which are made from maize, sugarcane, wheat and other crops, is growing by 20-30% a year.


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