The Great Food Packaging Debate
Written by Ni Ni and Rebecca Krauss
April 24, 2012
Paper, plastic, corn-based, soy-based, plant-based, recycled, post-consumer recycled, biodegradable, or – heaven forbid! – Styrofoam. When choosing disposable food containers and utensils there are a dizzying array of material options. The newest trend in packaging is green. While we love this trend, there are actually quite a few considerations to what is the “most” eco-friendly option on the market. The short story is: post-consumer recycled products are what we recommend, but plant-based compostable items are another way to go if you participate in commercial composting.
For the longer story, here’s a primer on some of the options:
"Compostable" or "Biodegradable ":
While the literal meaning of “biodegradable” is the ability to be decomposed by bacteria and living organisms, “compostable” offers the addition of being able to decay in the soil to become fertilizers. Moreover, the industrial definition of “compostable” is the ability to biodegrade 90% within 45-120 days with no remaining toxic residues. So both "biodegradable" and "compostable" envelop similar meanings, and are used interchangeably in the eco-friendly products market. Many different materials are compostable, including most paper products (check with your commercial compost collector on acceptable materials) and specially labeled plant-based products (such as Greenware brand).
However, there are complications involved in using these “Eco-friendly” cups and food wares. While most believe that these materials can biodegrade easily on landfills or can be recycled, these compostable materials need to be sent to a commercial composting facility to allow it to properly decay back into the soil. By simply throwing them in the garbage, we are allowing methane (23 times more potent than carbon dioxide) production as they decompose in the anaerobic landfills. Tossing them in the recycling bin won’t do either, since they cannot be recycled and will harm the quality of the recyclable materials like plastic bottles. Moreover, the composting bins in your backyards would not be able to provide high enough of a temperature to properly and efficiently compost these materials. So the only effective means of disposal for these items is in a commercial composting facility. In other words, unless they are properly composted through a special hauler, these products aren’t worth it.
“Corn-based” or “plant-based”:
These items are most often labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable”, and may additionally boast labels that they’re “corn-based” or “plant-based”. This means that although they resemble plastics and function much like them, they’re made out of plant materials instead. According to the Greenware website, their corn-based product is made from a polymer, “PLA”, that is derived from dextrose fermented into lactic acid.
On the eco-friendly scale, these products have pluses and minuses. They are made from a renewable resource, plants, instead of a petroleum-based plastic. That’s a plus. But it’s also a minus, in that the crops used for this material are usually produced using petroleum-based fertilizers and chemicals, and with heavy machinery, so there is still quite a lot of petroleum going into their production. (Some worry that this is taking away from the world’s food stocks. According to Greenware’s website, it diverts very little corn from food markets, less than 0.25% of US production.) Plant-based products can be composted, a plus, but as we stated earlier they can only be composted on a commercial scale. This can be a minus as few of these products will find their way to an appropriate facility, and will cause harm when added to recycling or garbage streams. Another plus is that they are becoming more familiar to consumers, and are a visible sign of change – always helpful in encouraging everyday greener choices. This is one debate that has many detailed pluses and minuses, and will have to be settled by each individual for themselves.
“Recycled” or “Post-Consumer Recycled”:
These products are made from materials that would otherwise be discarded. According to Earth911.com, “If a product is labeled ‘recycled content,’ the material might have come from excess or damaged items generated during normal manufacturing processes--not collected through a local recycling program.” Alternatively, “Post-Consumer Recycled” products are made from materials collected in consumer recycling programs. Why is this an important distinction? It has to do with the success of recycling programs. These programs rely on having a robust market in which to sell the materials they collect. That market is driven by consumers buying products that are made of post-consumer recycled materials. So by purchasing post-consumer recycled, you are encouraging municipal recycling programs. While recycled is good, post-consumer recycled is better!
As for those who have already began using compostable products, rest assured that even by purchasing compostable/biodegradable products that might end up on the landfills, you are already taking a step in greening the environment, as you are selecting a product made from renewable rather than non-renewable sources. So even if you cannot properly compost them, it will still have less of an overall impact than fossil fuel-based materials. But overall, post consumer recycled product should be the way to go.
Written by Casey Heil
March 1, 2012
Growing up, my mother constantly complained about feeling the need to use Clorox, claiming that it killed the “good germs” along with bad. Through advertising and our society, we have been taught that the strongest chemicals are needed for cleaning. Today, there are many great alternatives to harsh chemical cleaners readily available.
We ask our businesses about their cleaning supplies because they have such a strong effect on the indoor environment as well as our global environment. These products are also one of many categories in which switching from “regular” to “green” is exceeding simple. Even though common brand such as Ajax and Windex may seem to be the easiest choice, in actuality, there are a multitude of comparable options for green products that are friendly toward the environment, your space, and your wallet.
Conventional cleaning products are usually labeled with “toxic” and other warnings, saying right on them that they can be harmful to the environment and your health. Dangerous chemicals can be found throughout cleaning products used widely today. Chlorinated compounds, phosphates, and bleach all have the possibility to form toxic gas due to their chorine content, and they comprise many sanitizers as well as laundry and dishwashing products. Volatile organic compounds are similarly dangerous to the environment due to their high likelihood of evaporation, and they remain directly in areas where they are used because of their readiness to attach to carpets and other materials after they are (commonly) sprayed via aerosols. Degreasers and deodorizers contain benzenes, which are known to be carcinogenic, while petrochemicals in waxes and polishes significantly affect childhood development.
As someone who was once eating dinner while the table next to me was sprayed down with Clorox, I can easily appreciate, and want to return, to those businesses which use eco-friendly products over the harmful alternatives. The environment for the patrons is not only more inviting, but also significantly healthier.
For those businesses thinking about making such a transition, here are some helpful examples:
Seventh Generation offers many products ranging from those specialized for toilets and tubs, to a general all-purpose cleaner. They also proudly explain how if every house swapped one bottle of solvent cleaner for their 32 ounce bottle of all-purpose cleaner (at $3.49), 9.3 million pounds of volatile organic carbons would never enter the environment. While Clorox offers their “green works” line, with an identical size all-purpose cleaner, yet at $4.99 it is significantly higher than the $3.49 price tag at Seventh Generation, a completely eco-friendly company.
Green cleaning can go beyond reducing chemical use. Another green cleaning tip is to use washable products instead of disposable ones. This not only eliminates waste, but can also be more effective at cleaning, with rags and sponges being stronger than paper towels. Even better than those, microfiber towels are a great product that cleans exceedingly well.
To purchase these products locally (even more green!), Green Depot offers convenient one-stop shopping for all cleaning items, ranging from supplies to cleaners. For those interested in making their own supplies, and at an even cheaper cost, EcoBizNYC Program Manager Anjie Cho offers her own list of simple ways individuals can make their own cleaning products, available by request.
While there may be misconceptions about the quality and prices of eco-friendly products, it is worth trying a few to see the difference it can make for your health and environment.
2nd Semi-Annual Grants Awards Event
Written by James Einhaus
January 12, 2012
Great food, great people, and a great cause brought community members together on November 1, 2011 at Ciao for Now (523 E. 12th Street). The cafe once again hosted the Semiannual EcoBizNYC Grant Awards Ceremony, but this time was a recipient as well. They joined eleven other small businesses in the Lower East Side and East Village, including Pink Olive, Fab Café, Gallery Vercon, Rena Reborn, Roots & Vines, Rosario's Pizza, Seward Park Liquors, Sustainable NYC, Swing: Hair Salon, Wacky Wok, and Zum Schneider. All recipients demonstrated exceptional progress in sustainability. For their efforts, each business was awarded a grant of up to $1,000 to put towards a permanent sustainable change for their business.
The grants distributed will help the businesses save on energy use, add green space, reduce fuel consumption, and maintain indoor air temperature -- measures which have an environmental impact as well as financial savings for the businesses. Grants will be used for a range of items, including an electric car battery for Ciao for Now’s innovative zero-emissions electric delivery vehicle, ceiling fans that will reduce the need for air conditioning, an outdoor planter box to add green space to the streetscape, energy efficient hand dryers that eliminate the need for paper towel waste, and even smaller items such as CFL light bulbs and air conditioner covers.
All businesses that received grants had been through EcoBizNYC’s innovative assessment process in which trained interns examine the operational practices and infrastructure of each business. The business made sustainable changes based on the recommendations of the program and obtained at least a Bronze sustainability rating, indicating that they had made some significant efforts toward sustainability.
The event was attended by community members, and hosted by EcoBizNYC Program Managers Anjie Cho and Rebecca Krauss as well as their interns and Caroline Kruse, Development Director of the Lower East Side Ecology Center. It was featured in an NYU TV News segment, which can be viewed below.
As an intern and being personally in attendance, it was rewarding to see a dozen businesses offering various services get together around a common cause. It was fulfilling to hear their appreciation for our program and our efforts.
Recap: Spring 2011 Grant Award Event
Written by James Einhaus
September 1, 2011
On April 28, 2011, an excited and appreciative crowd came together at Ciao for Now (523 E. 12th St) to celebrate six local businesses. In front of members of Community Board 3, fellow business owners, and interested citizens, these businesses received grants of up to $1,000 from the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s EcoBizNYC program. This was the first semiannual EcoBizNYC grant award event. The celebration was in recognition of the efforts of six East Village businesses who not only made it through the EcoBizNYC program, but also went above and beyond to make their business environmentally friendly. With the help of Community Board 3, ConEdison, and HSBC, EcoBizNYC presented these six businesses with grant money to go towards permanent changes that would increase each business’ sustainability practices.
The six businesses in the spotlight were Big City Records, B-Side Bar, Dusty Buttons, Kumo Sushi, Michael Mut Gallery, and Ost Café. The grant money was directed towards weatherization products, lighting upgrades, energy- and water-efficient appliances, and products to reduce paper waste.
In order to be eligible for the sustainability grant, businesses had to meet three criteria. First, each business had to obtain a “Bronze” or higher EcoBizNYC rating, indicating that they had made some significant efforts toward sustainability. Second, applicants had to participate in an energy assessment and implement more than 50% of the recommended upgrades or changes. Third, each recipient needed to make a minimum of three changes recommended by their EcoBizNYC representative.
In attendance were EcoBizNYC program directors Rebecca Krauss and Anjie Cho and the EcoBizNYC interns, Lower East Side Ecology Center staff, including co-founder and executive director Christine Datz-Romero, and representatives from ConEdison and Community Board 3.
Press coverage for the ceremony included The Villager, Good Business International, LED Waves, Inhabitat New York City, and Downtown Express. Each commended EcoBizNYC and the Lower East Side Ecology Center for their efforts and contributions to reducing environmental impacts of small businesses in Community Board 3.
The fall 2011 Grant Award Ceremony is scheduled to take place on November 1 at Ciao for Now, from 5-7pm.
Green Depot: Your Local Source for All Things Green
Written by Valerie Wang
July 1, 2011
Finding sustainable products can be confusing and difficult, but one business is changing that. Green Depot makes finding sustainable products and materials easy and convenient. Located at 222 Bowery, between Prince St and Spring St, the flagship Green Depot store carries eco-friendly weatherizing, cleaning, and lighting supplies, as well as construction materials.
Green Depot provides the tools for each business to make stable and long lasting improvements. Green Depot is especially proud of its large number of “G.I.Yers” or “Green-it-Yourselfers” says the Lower East Side store manager, Ana Paglione, and caters to all types of projects, from saving money on electric bills to complete space renovations.
Lighting is one of the ways that every business can go green with a limited time and budget. In the Green Depot lighting department, the most popular items are CFL bulbs. They are inexpensive, long-lasting, and come in an array of colors. Green Depot stocks bulbs that give customers benefits including energy savings, lower electricity costs, and greater durability. For instance, Green Depot stocks energy efficient bulbs from Litetronics that have a one year warranty and save users around 50-70 dollars on energy costs per bulb. Also, Green Depot has a lighting booth that allows patrons to test bulbs so they can compare the effects of CFLs, LED bulbs, and incandescent bulbs.
Green Depot’s Green Filter process makes Green Depot unique from other green stores. “Using information collected from vendors and third-parties, we identify green features and benefits through our “CLEAR” icon system. We award icons based on whether the products meet or exceed internal standards in five categories: Conservation, Local, Energy, Air Quality, and Responsibility,” says Paglione.
Green Depot makes providing the best cleaning products one of its top priorities. In the cleaning department, most products are recognized for purifying air-quality, meaning they are non-toxic, non-allergenic, contain no or few VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), have no particulates, fight mold. The most popular cleaning products are Green Depot’s own line of cleaners which meet standards for industrial and institutional cleaners that improve air quality and are “locally made in NYC, biodegradable, safe, and very effective”, says Paglione. They have a huge variety of products to clean every surface of a business. They also carry products from E-Cloth company, known for its many awards from Good Housekeeping. Other brands carried by Green Depot include Eclipse, Full Circle (earth friendly cleaning tools), Murphy, and Mrs. Meyer’s.
Proper weatherization is a common way to prevent unnecessary expenses. One of the most popular G.I.Y products at Green Depot are the air conditioner covers that prevent decreased efficiency, clogging, rusting, and corrosion from long-term exposure to nature’s elements. They are also money savers because they extend the lifetime of units, decrease maintenance costs, and increase machines’ efficiencies (improving their operation and reducing energy bills).
Green Depot is the spot to go for cost-effective and eco-friendly tools and services. The staff are extremely helpful and friendly as well. Also, don’t forget to mention EcoBizNYC as participants get 10% off their purchases.