A Good Fix For Mosquitos

by Dave on July 4, 2009

As first seen in Coastal Sussex Weekly, June 11, 2009:

by Andy Meddick

Mosquitos and Styrofoam/plastics: statistically there’s an association at summer cookouts. If we get rid of the Styrofoam/plastic plates and cups, we fix the mosquito problem, right?

Styrofoam and plastic beverage/food containers are ‘innovations’ from earlier decades, which are decidedly not retro chic.

I get a sincere response to the reduce/reuse/recycle mantra from most people, “I’d love to ditch the paper/plastic/Styrofoam, but give me a workable alternative, that’s easily available, and affordable.”

I’ve been searching for earth-friendly food and beverage containers for our organic juice/coffee bar at the G4U Market. I’ve realized that recycled, recyclable, and biodegradable are all jumbled up. This is making buying store supplies more complicated than it ought, so here’s my primer on the key terms.

Recycled – materials were something else in a prior life: either pre-consumer, or post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste is material that was discarded before it was ready for consumer use. Post-consumer waste is material discarded after consumer use, such as old magazines.

Recyclable – materials can be recycled for reuse in other products. Most towns have recycling programs: curbside, or central collection points. Guidance on what may be accepted for recycling is well posted, but the numbering system for plastics needs some PR work!

Biodegradable – materials break down through the action of a naturally occurring microorganism. Products are usually made from plants. Examples include paper, vegetable scraps and plastic-type materials made from ingredients such as cornstarch. When dumped in landfills, however, biodegradable doesn’t always biodegrade! If the material is buried where the “good” bacteria can’t survive in the oxygen-depleted environment, it degrades anaerobically. This creates methane, a greenhouse gas with over 62 times the GWP (Global Warming Potential) of CO2 .

Compostable – interchangeable with biodegradable, but “greener”. According to the American Society for Testing & Materials, for plastic to be considered as compostable, it must be able to break down into CO2, water, and biomass at the same rate as paper. It also needs to look like compost, should not produce any toxic material and be able to support plant life. Compostable items are made from plant materials such as corn, potato, cellulose, soy and sugar.

Degradable – materials are oil-based, and break down through chemical reactions rather than the activity of microorganisms. They can degrade in an anaerobic environment into water, CO2, biomass and trace elements. This can take centuries, and may break down into such small pieces that human/marine life is harmed. Bummer.

There is a sliding scale of earth-friendship, but it’s not clear-cut. We’re all inclined toward perfection, causing an ‘either or’ situation. Either give up, do nothing, and while away the afternoon in loose pants sharing a beer in a Styrofoam cup with your mozzie friends; or accept compromise and do something. Going Green BIODEGRADABLE
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goes Green-er. Consider the energy involved in the production of the product, in addition to the
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environmental load of the biological half-life of the waste product and go for the better of two choices.

So what were my options? Products have to be workable – check!

There are  food safety issues (safe for cold and hot foods), aesthetics (who buys ugly looking food?), and greener (does not use more resource in its reuse than using virgin materials). Products have to be easily available, and affordable – check! Affordable includes the trade-off between, pay  now (slightly higher prices), or later (higher taxes and healthcare for environmental cleanup), in addition to budget.

Dry, or cold food/beverage containers/lids – sometimes PLA ‘plastic’ (compostable cornstarch), sometimes, recyclable oil-based plastic, sometimes recycled paper.
Hot food/beverage containers – biodegradable bamboo, potato, or palm-leaves, or recycled paper/cardboard

lined with a plant-based ‘plastic’ type material. Rarely recyclable oil-based plastic.

Cutlery (knives, forks, spoons, stirrers, straws) – mostly PLA ‘plastic’ (made from compostable cornstarch). Rare occasions recyclable oil-based plastic.

Napkins/Paper Towels – recycled, compostable paper, unbleached, or bleached without chlorine.

Trash Bags – recycled plastic.

Here are some of the commercial greener containers and handling products we love:

Aluminum Foil/Baking Paper/Saran Wrap – If You Care, Beyond Gourmet, Natural Value. Recycled foil is made from 100% recycled aluminum products and can also be recycled again. Parchment paper/baking cups are made from compostable, unbleached paper and cardboard. Our saran wrap is a great alternative to PVC based plastic wrap, made from low-density polyethylene/ LDPE #4 plastic and free of PVCs and plasticizers. How does this make a difference? The recycled aluminum foil, for example, uses only 5% of the energy of regular aluminum.

Food/Beverage Containers and Cutlery – Preserve, Terra Ware, or Eco Products. Preserve plates, tumblers, and cutlery are made from 100% recycled plastic, are BPA-free, dishwasher safe, reusable, and recyclable in communities that recycle #5 plastic. Here are some stats for Preserve products, when compared to using virgin polypropylene:

* 54% less water.
* 64% less greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents).
* 75% less oil.
* 48% less coal.
* 77% less natural gas.
* 46% less electricity.

Terra Ware is made from GMO-free cornstarch, and biodegrades in 4 – 6 months.

Eco-Products range from compostable PLA plastic derived from corn, through recycled plastic, paper and card. Their compostable straws, for example, perform as good as petroleum-based straws.

Napkins/Paper Towels – Seventh Generation: from 100% recycled paper (80% min. post-consumer). Unbleached, or bleached without chlorine.

Trash Bags – Seventh Generation Kitchen Trash Bags: 55% recycled plastic, Large Trash Bags (80% recycled plastic).
Finally, never ever Styrofoam. I just hate mosquitoes in my beer.

Some towns may recycle Styrofoam, so check your local communities.

Andy Meddick is the owner of the Good For You Natural Market on Rt. 9 West of Lewes. He can be reached at goodforu@comcast.net.

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