Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Polystyrene

Someone made a comment on one of my posts today.  I had been talking about getting eggs without egg cartons (see post here).  The whole purpose of the post, I thought, was to offer a suggestion on how we don't have to buy eggs with cartons - especially those made of petroleum products.  Since then I have reverted to buying much more expensive organic eggs that come in cardboard cartons (they are better tasting and have much darker yolks - the chickens are also guaranteed to be treated better).  I'd buy them with my basket if I could, but the grocery store doesn't have that option, and even if they did, they'd probably throw out the carton instead of recycling it as I would at home.  Anyhow, I was offering a suggestion, and I hope inspiration, to help people think outside the box (or the egg carton).  Secondary to my main intention was the comment that styrofoam egg cartons are HORRIBLE for the environment.  As are any food packaging that is made of styrofoam.

The person who left the comment kind of made me angry.  Here's the comment before I explain:

"In this part of the world styrofoam is not in common use in food packaging anymore. Next time you see something that you think is a styrofoam carton or food tray, turn it over and you'll no doubt see a recycle triangle impressed into it indicating that it is low-density polyethylene. Completely recyclable!"

The person writing it did not leave their name - they left the comment anonymously - but they were from Canada.  I admit I haven't bought much meat at the supermarket lately (as I prefer the meat I buy locally at the Hutterite Colony), but last I noticed, ALL of the cut meat came in polystyrene trays and wrapped in plastic.  I'd like to know where they live so I can shop where the stores don't commonly use those trays.  Perhaps egg cartons are more commonly made of plastic or cardboard these days (I don't really pay attention, I just make sure I buy cardboard), but stating that "styrofoam is not in common use in food packaging anymore" is a bit misleading.  Perhaps it is not used as much, but it is still very much out there.

Polystyrene, #6 PS in the recycling world, Styrofoam colloquially, is difficult to recycle.  It is recyclable, but because it is so bulky and lightweight, and the recycling of materials is done by weight, it is cost prohibitive to transport it for recycling.  See this article.  And this one.  Contamination is also a problem, so meat trays may actually not be recyclable at all due to blood and other residues.  Just because something has a recycling symbol on the bottom of it does not mean that your local recycling depot has a destination for it. 

Low-density polyethylene, the plastic that is most commonly used to make soft, refillable squeeze water bottles, garbage and bread bags, and plastic films, and the one the anonymous comment-leaver talks about, is indeed recyclable - it is #4 LDPE.  I'm not sure where the commenter came up with the statement that most food packaging is made out of LDPE - it is not. 

Most of the food packaging that I have in my house is #1 PETE which is Polyethylene terephthalate.  Used for bottles, polyester clothing and clear, opaque or translucent food packaging (see this article).   However, if you do happen to live in an area that recycles plastic (which is more and more common these days), plastic recycling (and I don't know HOW many times I need to say this) is not truly recycling.  It is called DOWNCYCLING.  Unlike glass or paper, plastic is not turned back into the same type of plastic, it is turned into a different grade of plastic and after being recycled once or twice is no longer recyclable and will have to end up in a landfill.  It is not a terrific end-of-life solution.  See this article.  The best thing is to avoid using plastics at all.

What frustrates me the most about this comment is the presumed assumption by the commenter that I did not do my homework (I usually do ... I just don't include every detail in every post because it is too long to read and people will zone out) and don't understand the subject, and the misinformation that they are sharing (in MY space) that if something has a recycling symbol on the bottom then it is just fine and dandy to use it and that recycling removes all enviro-guilt from using the product.  It does not.

Don't get me wrong.  There's lots of plastic in my house.  I try to reduce my plastic use by doing things a little differently.  I'm not perfect.  But I try.  And I try to inform.  Recycling isn't the answer where plastic is concerned.  PLEASE don't go about your daily life thinking it fixes everything.  KNOW the truth and then make the best decisions you can for you and your family.

If any of you are interested in the whole plastic issue, Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life has a new book out called "How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can, Too".  I have a copy and just started reading it.  If ANYTHING I've written here turns out to be untrue, I'll correct myself.

5 comments:

  1. Holy Crap, just thought I'd offer a helpful comment. If you don't want comments then don't provide for feedback. How the hell can I know whether you've done your homework or not, or maybe just haven't looked at a food tray lately. Yes, I live in Canada, and in Montreal, Toronto, Saskatoon, Victoria, Vancouver (everywhere where I've heard back from associates, they've all assured me that my assumption is correct, they all get egg cartons and food trays in their stores made of either fiber or ld poly as well. I don't know where you live, but maybe you ought to be outraged at your politicians and not at one of the few people who bother to read your blog! Maybe you should start a blog on rage . . . .

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  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. See below - I didn't mean to remove this comment.

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  3. Anonymous - whomever you happen to be - one of the things I try to be in my blogs is accurate. I AM a caring person, but we all have things that we are sensitive about. And one of those things is when people assume that recycling plastics fixes all the problems. Which your comment seemed to state. I was giving suggestions to help people make better choices - your option was one that would not fix the problem. Recycling is certainly better than not, but it isn't the end of the problem, which you seemed to state.

    If you think I was "outraged" or "raging", I think you are reading far too much into it. Read the post again. I got frustrated and a little angry by that particular comment because it was misleading to people and I wanted to point you and others with the same assumptions in a different direction to take a look at what actually is happening out there. I didn't rage about anything - simply expressed my frustration at an opinion that I've heard too many times. I also included lots of information to help educate people about why I disagree with that opinion.

    If you read the second to last paragraph of this blog, you'll see that I state that I'm not perfect, that there are lots of plastics in my house. I am not on a high horse. I simply try to share information to get people to understand the issues.

    Plastic consumption is a particular interest of mine, and I helped host a screening of the movie "Bag It" for our city council and the public, and helped to try and push through a plastic bag ban in our small city.

    I'm sorry, but your comment was not helpful. It was misleading - at least from everything I've read and observed. If it's different where you live, I really would like to see something written about that and not just a collection of opinions from your friends. Instead, it was telling people that anything that has a recycling symbol on it will be recycled. It's simply not true.

    I'm glad that you agreed with me. I appreciate you pointing that out, because it certainly didn't come across in your comment. And perhaps you should re-read your comments. If someone needs help with rage, it might not be me.

    If you continue to make such abusive comments on my blog, I might just have to stop allowing comments - and that would be a shame. I really don't have a large readership - mostly friends of mine - and I like being able to hear from them.

    Do you have a blog? Because it would seem that you have enough opinions to have one.

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  4. Sorry - I totally DID NOT mean to delete the second comment from the anonymous reader. The comment was as follows:

    "And another thing! Maybe recycling plastic is not real recycling, but it's still important to do if you have plastic. We can't all avoid all the plastic out there. And before you get too far away from your high-horse, are you telling me that you have no plastic in your home? No plastics in your appliances, no plastic in your child's toys? Sure we all want to do better, but where do you come off chastising someone that's agreeing with you in the first place and just trying to offer helpful comments. You come off sounding like a caring person in your blogs, but I guess you're no different than most other bloggers, you want the world to know how much you think you know about everything and you don't give a crap about other peoples thoughts or their opinions. Good luck with that. "

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