Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Plant Based Plastic - Worst Idea Ever.


         For whatever reason, ever since I saw that many companies were now using this new compostable 
plant based plastic (PLA aka corn plastic)... it felt like 'green washing' to me. I had theories on why it wasn't ringing true with me. One being the assertion that it uses less oil that petroleum based plastic. I knew that to be untrue. In fact, I would argue it actually uses more oil than its counter part beccause it creates more consumption in areas of production.While corn based plastics contribute less greenhouse gases in the manufacturing process, I am not sure it really negates the pollution that is produced by growing, harvesting and transporting the tons of GMO corn that is needed to make it. I think when the end of the day comes, your about even in the amount of pollution as traditional plastic. However, it would be safe to say at this point, it uses the same if not more oil to produce it as regular plastic. The statement that these manufactures make about less pollution does not factor in is how much oil is used in the planting, growing and harvesting of the plant needed. Just in the manufacturing process. 

The second part I found to be sketchy is this...we are trusting BIG AG again to answer our concerns.
These are the mighty fine people who brought you genetically modiefied, industrial farming and CAFO's.
They are to be trusted? Not in the least bit.
They are trying to address consumer demands with something that is not necessarily what is best for the consumer. We ask for less plastic and less oil consumption. In turn they give us a product that can not be recycled, it can not be composted at home, only can be composted in a facility set up for such thing, it contaimnates recycling centers if you mindlessly throw it in with your recycling and is made from GMO corn. That is not progress. That is BIG AG trying to sell us on why they need to produce more GMO corn.  

 By the way, did you catch that?
PLA is made from GMO corn here in the US. The same thing we are demanding to come to an end.
Also it is produced by companies like Cargill (owner of NatureWorks, one of the largest PLA pushers).
Who is a corn giant that deals in fossil fuels. By fossil fuels I mean, oil. But the irony doesn't stop. Cargill owns many conflicting companies. One that touts the perfection of PLA as an environmental band-aid to reduce our dependency on the oil and at the same time owns companies that also tell us that oil is still the product of the future and that peak oil and our consumption are just fine. Which one is it?

Also, note that in order to COMPOST these items, it requires high heat. These are not recyclable. These do not naturally compost in the ground with other material. Home composting is not an option.
Recyclers are also finding since it melts at a lower heat than traditional PET plastic, it is causing a problem for their facilities. It can not be put in curb side recycling and it can't compost at home. Where does it end up at?
In the landfill. Which is what we wanted to avoid.

 What is the solution?
That depends on your school of thought. If you are of the thought that since we introduced plastic in the last 75 years that we now can not live without plastic then the solution is not simple. While some say all plastic can not be avoided I would agree to an extent. I think it would be safer to say, all plastic for the home can be avoided. In the very least, our consumption can be drastically cut by using better alternatives.
Glass is an alternative product that I can get behind. It is made from silca. Sand. We don't depend on sand to eat, to be massively produced, nor do we need it to be sprayed or fertizled or modified. 
Unlike its plastic competition it is an inert material that does not pose a danger to consumers.
It also is 100% recyclable with no life span. Meaning, it can be recycled a million times without
any loss to the product. Unlike plastic which can only be recycled a few times and
then ends up in a landfill despite our best efforts.

I am all for alternative means to an end. But I am also against green washing.
When Big Ag, who caters to Big Oil, produces the answer then why do we assume that they have our best interest?They don't. But what they are counting on is uninformed consumers. That has always been the way they have remained in control. They are counting on you to not do your research and
to accept every 'green' option at face value with no research to back it up.
Don't be uninformed. Do your research on green alternatives.


Cherie said...

Well, all of that may be true, but I have a pretty good life because my husband works for a company that contracts with Cargill. I am not saying Cargill is right or wonderful or anything; in fact, they are a BIG corporation that really doesn't give a whit about the people who work for them, but they essentially sign the paycheck that comes into our house each week.

Chele said...

I understand. My hubby works for Big Oil. But his employment with them does not negate the fact they have be flawed in some of their practices. Same for Cargill. Lots of good people work for not so good people or good people who make poor choices. It is just a fact of life. But because they sign a paycheck we should never be afraid to push better sustainable practices.
And it isn't being ungrateful to do so either. It is called customer feedback. They are in the business of making money. They aren't going to push a product a consumer isn't going to buy. So, if these companies see we are demanding a product, they are going to get behind it. That is how PLA came to the market, consumer demand for less plastic that never leaves the earth. It was just a poor solution.
Bottom line is, they are going to do whatever to bring in that dollar. We just have to demand better products. Which is why I wrote this. To inspire and inform others to do their research.
Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this post. I knew there was something not right about those plant-based containers when it said I couldn't recycle or compost them. Well, that means I have to throw it away, and I always try to keep my trash at a minimum. I'd almost rather recycle real plastic (and I hate plastic!) rather than throw something away.

Chele said...

Lots of folks have bought into it. Mostly because there is this thought that if it is touted as a green alternative then you can trust it. That just isn't the case.
And I hate plastic too. We have eliminated it all from our kitchen and now replacing through the house with better alternatives. :)
Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

It's sad when we depend on these companies that are so out of touch with nature to provide us with solutions. Very well written!

Sarah @ Natures Nurture said...

It's amazing just how far green-washing will go, isn't it? Thanks for this very informative post, I hadn't even heard of this ridiculous plant-based plastic until now...

Thanks so much for sharing at Tiny Tip Tuesday!

Chele said...

You hit the nail on the head. They are very out of touch!

Chele said...

The most recognizable ones so far to me are the Heinz ketchup bottles. I am not sure Canada has them yet, it may just be a US thing but I wouldn't doubt it is spreading!

Stephanie at Naturally Mindful said...

Thanks for this awesome post Chele! I had not done my research on it yet I had a hunch they could not be all that great either, I just had no idea!

Chele said...

It is so hard these days when we want to believe a product is better. Sadly, there will be those with hidden agendas. :(