Pick of the Litter

 

We all want the garbage gone, what do we choose from here?

 

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce, reuse, recycle. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times (maybe literally). Recently though, chanting the mantra doesn’t seem to be getting the job done, and the problem appears to stem from step 1: reduce, because how can you reduce waste when it’s so prevalent in our daily lives that it’s practically impossible to avoid? You try to be responsible by going to an organic grocery store only to find that they put all your delicious, earth-friendly apples and oranges into plastic bags. And then they put all those plastic bags into an even bigger plastic bag so you can carry it all out to your car. We all know that plastic is the enemy of the environment but the real question is: if I’m not allowed to use plastic, what am I going to carry my apples in? Or what am I going to eat my takeout food out of? What’s going to hold the garbage in my trash can? Of course, you can always try stuffing your pockets, but that can get a little messy. Luckily, although the removal of plastics from the global market leaves a very large gap in many industries, it’s a gap that can be quite easily filled by one of many alternatives. In future articles, we’ll be going through the pros and cons of each of these alternatives, diving deeper so you can decide what the best choice is for you; but for now, let’s take a brief look at what’s out there.

Reusable

One of the most common alternatives to plastic today is reusable bags and containers. Bringing your own cloth or cotton bags when you go shopping and packing a lunch in Tupperware rather than ordering in is more and more becoming the mark of an environmentally-conscious individual or the expected alternative for environment enthusiasts. Although this is considered preferable to plastic because you are physically throwing less waste away, problems begin to arise when considering the entire life-cycle of the product, including transportation, manufacturing and just how much more plastics are involved. As mentioned, we’ll explain in detail in future articles. 

Paper

Paper or plastic? Grocery store cashiers have been asking this question for years, even before the plastic bans were getting underway. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably been choosing paper when you want to feel responsible (and maybe impress the cute cashier with your environmentally savvy choices). As we’ll discuss in more detail in future articles, while paper does decompose better than plastics, it also requires a great deal of energy output before it gets to that point, and it can contribute negatively to the environment where it ends up.

Biodegradable

Many people assume “biodegradable” and “compostable” are interchangeable terms. However, there are vast differences between the two – enough so that we’ve decided to spend an entire article talking about just them! For now, what you need to know is that, if a product says biodegradable, it doesn’t speak at all to the product’s manufacturing process and it doesn’t require any actual board-reviewed certifications – you can pretty much stick a “biodegradable” label on whatever you want, making it a shaky alternative.

Compostable

Now you may or may not have noticed that we’ve mentioned compostables once or twice. If that wasn’t a tip-off to our preference of alternative, we’ll spell it out for you – We. Like. Compostables. Of course, there may be a bit of bias there but the whole reason we chose to support the products that we do is that we truly believe these are the best choice to replace plastic. There are compostable products like bags and takeout containers that can seamlessly fill the gap that the plastics ban will leave behind. This easy substitution means that customers don’t have to make sacrifices or change their habits to suit the changing legislative requirements. More importantly, certified compostables have to go through rigorous testing and review to ensure they are as beneficial for the environment as possible when considering their entire life cycle. It’s like when you read those articles on Facebook entitled something like Science Says Apples Kill More People Than Car Crashes. You probably aren’t going to trust that headline as much as you would trust a peer-reviewed article in a scientific journal. Why? Because experts have taken the time to check over the information and confirm that it is factually accurate and suitable for public consumption. Same with compostables. Being labelled as certified compostable requires experts to have tested and researched the product and deemed it worthy of the certifications. 

Now that is not to say compostables don’t have their critics. In fact, it’s a concern when we hear the lack of details shared in the arguments against compostables. This is where the challenge comes when deciding what is best, media rarely tells the full truth. But even though we love our compostables, we are doing our best to share facts to help educate so that people can see the full picture. As an example, recently we are hearing critics say compostables aren’t living up to their claim and are not breaking down properly in facilities. Again, we will dive deeper into the “why” this may be a concern and where the misconception is coming from later. But the one takeaway to remember is if a facility is struggling to break down a bag that has been proven to break down through rigorous testing procedures and has been stamped as certified, what is happening to your eggs shells or bones from the pork chops that you tossed into your bin last night? If a facility is struggling with something like a compostable bag, then imagine what else is NOT breaking down like the tough organic matter just mentioned. Food for thought; we promise to explain in greater detail to come. 

The mere fact that you’re reading this article means you’ve probably already started thinking about the future of our planet and the many ways our lives and choices affect that future. Switching away from plastics, especially single-use plastics, is a big step in helping to ensure that that future will be a bright one, and knowing your options for replacing these things is key, both for individual consumers,  businesses and policymakers alike. 

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