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Eco footprints stamping on good intentions


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Shops large and small far and wide are pontificating to allabout how green they are and how many rainforests they are saving buy flogging their new Green" merchandise to us. Whole companies have been created dedicated solely to supplying us with green merchandise, advising us on how to live our lives, and by chance selling the eco products we need in order to stave off destruction.

It is truly amazing just how many companies are singularly saving us from destruction via our nasty consumerism, boo, hiss.

Trading on ones green concepts, particularly when there are none is pretty bad form methinks and by my reckoning many shops are not thinking about the consequences of their actions when moving from one product to another, only thinking about marketing themselves as a green, environmentally friendly company.

One of the most popular green" products to be promoted in this way are Poly Lactic Acid lined paper coffee cupoffered by catering disposables firms, coffee chains and supermarkets.

Polylactic acid is a biodegradable made from natural resources, such as corn starch (U. S. ) or sugarcanes (rest of world). Although PLA has been around for more than a century, it has only been of commercial interest recently, because of its biodegradability.

As well as being used to line the inside of paper cups instead of the oil based lining normally used PLA is in use in plastic cups, plastic cutlery, carrier bags, food packaging, all manner of catering supplies and even diapers.

These new bio" paper coffee cups are now one of the most popular green products as we all attempt in our own way to stop global warming.

One of the major problems with this new PLA paper coffee cup being used at numerous stores and coffee shops all over the planet is that customers are thinking they will biodegrade in their bins when they need to be sent to industrial composting facilities or composted at home, planted individuallyand covered by nice warm compost. If these paper coffee cups are just put in the bin with normal waste they break down at the same rate as normal paper cups, ie years and years

Unless people compost their PLA lined paper cups at home (should they even know they have been given one) there will now be two types of disposable paper cups requiring sorting at waste reclamation centres whereas before all waste paper cups could be simply sent for recycling without having to separate them.

Moreover once these Poly Lactic Acid lined disposable cups find their way into normal recycling channels (and you cannot tell the difference) it will contaminate the whole recycling batch as oil based plastic lining on standard disposable paper cups and the natural lining on the PLA cups does not mix well. You get the oil on water scenario.

Most firms manufacturing, marketing or using these products also seem not to have thought about what was removed from the land in order to create crops to make this natural product. Like bio fuels land once used for production of foodstuffs is now being used for crops to grow alternatives to plastic and oil. There are even reports of trees being removed in order to make space to grow the PLA plants. This contributes to increased food prices, the effect of which everybody will have noticed over the last year. There will never be enough available space to fully switch over from our reliance on plastics to enable us to switch to using this naturally produced alternative, the world would starve.

On the topic of starving people another factor to think about regarding these new biodegradable plastic products is that we have spent a long time giving subsidies to farmers in Africa to help them create crops and stand on their own two feet. Some of the crops these farmers are producing are sugarcane and corn.

As we are now mass producing those same crops for Bio Fuel and alternatives to plastics, lowering the price as a result, plunging these people back into poverty.

There are alternatives that given a little more consideration could do many of the jobs these firms hope to achieve through their use of Poly Lactic Acid lined or produced cups. Oxo-biodegradable Plastic (OBP's) for example are conventional plastics such as polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyethylene (PE) to which is added a proprietary mixture that accelerates the breakdown of the structure of the material.

These OBP plasticswill degrade, then biodegrade, whether on land or sea, in the warm or cold, in the light or dark, in whatever timescale is required, leaving no fragments, no methane and leaving no harmful residues.

The resultant broken down products are then amenable to conversion by micro-organisms, for which these products are food and also into CO2 and H2O; thereby returning otherwise intractable plastics to the ecosystem.

These plastics can now have a shelf life, determined at the point of manufacture Using this new technology does not mean they cannot be recycled.

Sadly plenty of other short sighted green ideas are out there, such as the large coffee chain that dropped its plastic coffee stirrers and switched to wooden ones in an effort at greening their company. Out of fear of lawsuits from customers for getting wooden splinters in customers lips with their wooden stirrers they had the stirrers covered with gelatin (like your prescription pills). Adding this extra process to the production of the wood stirrers costs a lot of time, energy and expense, to the point where the natural product becomes more energy intensive than simply using plastic. One other classic example of short sighted greening was the banks saving acres of rainforest by using paperless bank statements, about which I learned on a paper flyer and noticed advertised on billboard advertisements.

Plastics are not evil" as many would have you think, reducing our use of it is a good notion however we cannot simply replace all plastic with a seemingly natural alternative without considering all the repercussions, and certainly not just to be seen to be marketing your firm as green

Event Supplies (UK) Ltd

15/17 Devonshire Street


BD21 2BH

Telephone: 0844 499 5456

Paper cups and plastic cups from Event Supplies


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