Plastic Bags: Minimizing the Damage

Photosource:http://www.blogto.com/upload/2008/04

Each year, millions of Americans consume, purchase and/or use billions of plastic bags (grocery, pharmacies, food, takeout, clothing and other purchases). Did you know that it takes anywhere from 400 to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade? The ubiquitous plastic bag is made out of polyethylene, and happens to be one of the hardest materials to degrade naturally.

So, what exactly happens to all those bags that get thrown in the trash?

PLASTIC BAG CONSUMPTION FACTS

• Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.

• According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.

• According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion)

• According to the industry publication Modern Plastics, Taiwan consumes 20 billion bags a year—900 per person.

• An estimated .7% or 49,600,000 end up as litter each year.

• Four out of every five bags handed out at grocery stores are plastic.

• They are rarely recycled and don’t degrade in the natural environment, much less in a landfill.

Primary source & for more information, see Trellis Earth.

SOLUTIONS: Where do we start?

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the biodegradable bags, e.g. the corn bag. So what’s out there? Is this really a solution?

Biobag among others have come up with a fully biodegradable and compostable plastic bag solution.
Their bags are apparently made from a proprietary Mater-Bi, which contains GMO free starch, biodegradable polymers and other renewable resources. No polyethylene is used in the production process. Biobag uses a new plastic derived from corn and supposedly fully composts in 30-60 days (in commercial composting conditions).

Trellis Earth seems to offer another solution through their plastic bag line as well as alternatives to other plastic goods (all fully biodegradable).

What about paper bags?

According to Trellisearth, paper bags can be even worse than plastic bags.

‘Paper sacks generate 70 percent more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags. It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. And paper bags can’t even be used in composting programs and don’t decompose any faster than plastic bags once they end up in a landfill.’ Source: http://www.trellisearth.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=10

Like Biobag,Trellis Earth’s biodegradable bioplastic bags are also made from corn polymers, starches and complimentary ingredients.

CHALLENGES

Of course, these bags are not readily available yet. Demand is still relatively low, and cost higher, so its not as easy as asking your local grocer if they can pack your groceries in a biobag. However, the more we ask, the more we will get.

Its important to remember that convenience plays a huge role (not to mention cost). So if a plastic bag is all that is available on our errand on the way home from work, guess what? Most of us will take the plastic bag and go (myself included!).

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

(1) Companies need to make it easier for consumers to make the right choices.

(2) Likewise, we consumers need to put pressure on our favorites companies.

I believe that plastic bag alternatives should to be readily available at stores and businesses should encourage customers to bring their own bags (it will save them money too!). Trader Joe’s does a great job at this. There is a weekly lottery for people who bring their own bags even, in addition to their selling their own line of reusable bags. Whole Foods is also moving in the right direction as well. By putting pressure on our local businesses to make these choices available, we will make it clear that these decisions matter and we all want to be part of the solution.

(3) Bring an extra bag with you wherever you go. Leave one in the car, and pack one in your bag. There are plenty of compressible bags on then market (eg the chico bag) that fold-up and hat can fit into any handbag or purse.

(4) Finally, if the damage has already been done and you have a mountain of plastic bags in your recycling bin, there are creative things you can do with them! Take one woman who has figured out how to fuse used plastic bags together to make sturdier, fasionable, re-usable larger totes. She laso makes waterproof liners, wallets, and and floor cushions. For more on this, see Lifehacker on fusing plastic bags for grocery shopping.

Let me know what you do email at Greencottonblog@gmail.com

Take a minute to do a Green Cotton survey on plastic bag consumption (30 seconds). Click Here

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The Dress is Back, Even in Organics

Photosource: Jute & Jackfruit.

Fashion & Style section of The NY Times reported today that the dress is still alive (at least for now). While fashion editors and designers have been predicting that the dress is going extinct for some time now, even going so far as to say it will be fully obsolete by September 2008, others beg to differ. Women in particular seem to be voting otherwise.

Anne Slowey of Elle magazine recently summed up the emerging trend with her conclusion that “the eye is looking for something new.’ While on the set for the upcoming Fashionista show, she added “and so is the psyche.’ Slowey went on to say that come August, 2008, the dress will be completely out, and the ‘trouser’ will make its way front and center for the fashion-conscious woman.

While this may be true, it is interesting to look back through the past few decades and consider when women wore dresses and when not. In particular, for women who raised their children in the 50’s and 60’s in the US, the dress was all they knew; it was the staple outfit. Then in the 70’s, the daughters of those women, resisted that style opting instead for the bell-bottom and pant-centric styles. Following that generation, I believe it is fair to say that the pant and/or trouser remained the norm. As women became more and more empowered in the workforce and in public life, the pant, pant suit and its entourage became commonplace. Sure, there were variations to the suiting angle, many of which were sexy and flattering, but all in all pants dominated withe more ‘feminine’ looks at the fringe.

Speaking from my own experience, as a product of the 70s and 80s, I must confess I never wore a dress until after graduate school unless it was for a wedding, special occasion or major event. I was a pants person through and through as were many of my friends and colleagues.

Now however, as I enter my mid-thirties, I find I am re-discovering the dress. Even when it comes to professional clothing, I am experimenting more with the feminine, sophisticated angles, to showcase (not shy away from) my feminine side. As I look around me as well, I find other women doing the same. Why is this? Well, it is interesting to look back through history because it seems, one reason might be that for many women, who perhaps grew up on pants, the dress is something new. It also happens to be something that is incredibly flattering on a wide range of body types and is one of the simplest outfits to put together and look absolutely stunning. It seems that in this era, more and more women are feeling empowered enough to get back in touch with our feminine side, while at the same time, exerting our independence and strength.

The women interviewed by the NY Times summed up the benefits of the dress nicely by saying:

  • “I feel glamorous in a dress, and it’s easy.”
  • Another woman stated that she finds that dresses are slimming, and they cover all the problem areas and highlight all the curves.”
  • Finally, another woman added, the dress ‘is very easy and very flattering — a no-brainer, really. It’s comfortable, and you can easily go from day to night. And guys like it because it’s so feminine.”

I personally think that the dress will continue to remain popular for seasons to come. The dress is not on its way out, nor going extinct as it provides too many advantages for women: great fit, comfortable, easy to wardrobe, and unfailingly flattering…

Along these lines, up and coming organic and sustainable designers are increasingly experimenting with variations on the dress. They are designing dresses that not only look terrific, and feel great, but also use organic and sustainable fibers and are therefore much better for the environment and for our skin.

One such designer, Kelly Lane, known for her use of color is doing just that. Kelly has a beautiful collection of dresses to light up the spring and summer – all made with organic and sustainable fibers. Likewise, up and coming online boutique Jute & Jackfruit will be offering a selection of her colorful dresses for fall as well another designers.

What is your opinion on the ‘dress’? is it going in or out? I’d love to hear from you. Greencottonblog@gmail.com

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Feeling the Brunt of Food Prices: Organics


Photosource: Linda Coan for the NY Times

The NY Times reported last week on the ‘sticker shock’ associated with organic products. While the organic market has seen unprecedented booms in the last few years, the recent economic downturn coupled with rising fuel and grain costs, have begun penetrate the organic market too. Consumers and farmers alike are feeling the hit.

Facing the front line pain of the increases are the organic farmers themselves, who are being forced to move back into conventional farming and/or pass along the increases onto consumers. Because the price differential between conventional and organic on certain products is so great, some consumers are now opting out of buying organic for the first time.

Two comparisons:

Eggs: regular eggs now average $1.34 – $3.59 for a dozen, whereas organic ranges from $3.99 – $6.39. For a large egg-eating household that is a 3-fold difference.
Milk: regular milk ranges from $1.99 – $2.99 and organic ranging form $3.29 – $4.99.

Overall, the consumer price index for groceries has increased 5% in the last year; however, some staples like eggs have jumped as much as 30% and milk as much as 13%. On average, organic products cost between 20 and 100% more than its conventional counterparts.

Some farmers have decided to switch back to conventional due to the high costs in grains and other products. In the last six months, 25 farmers in the Northeast have either retired early or stopping organic farming.

Americans spent $16.7 billion on organic food and beverages in 2006, representing a 126% increase in five years. While there is still room for growth, as organic sales only reach 2.8% of total food and beverage sales, with the rising prices, we may see a plateau in sales for some time to come.

In addition, in 2005, the United States had 14.1 million acres of organic farmland, which is 3x’s the amount in 1997. Yet, it appears that this growth may also be beginning to taper. Prices for organic soybeans, corn, and wheat are at or near record highs. When these staples rise, so does the rest of the food chain and products derived from these grains. In general, making the switch from conventional to organic farming requires a 3-year process, plus tons of paperwork and investment of resources. Farmers are increasingly thinking hard about making that transition.

All this points to the important conclusion that as much as we all want to be green and organic, (as poll after poll suggests that we do), there are limits to this greenness in our wallets. Prices matter, especially in an increasingly challenging marketplace. One question I have: do organic farms receive the same federal subsidies that conventional farming does? Depending on the answer, this could make a big difference in making the grains more affordable…food for thought.

For more information on this story, please see NYTimes.

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Green Cotton Celebrates Earth Day

HAPPY EARTH DAY!

Photosource: http://www.newworldbiomass.com

5 Things you can do on Earth Day to make a difference.

(1) Attend your areas local events – see more at Earth Day Network (and highlights below)
(2) Ride your bike, walk or take public transportation to wherever you go.
(3) Recycle.
(4) Read more about Climate Change and call your local senator/representative.
(5) Take the Sustainability Tour. Learn how about our US environmental footprint. Topics include waste, buildings, climate, water, energy, food, materials, transportation. ways to improve. Source Center for Sustainable Systems.

Inspirational quotes for the day:

“The good news is we know what to do. The good news is, we have everything we need now to respond to the challenge of global warming. We have all the technologies we need; more are being developed. And as they become available and become more affordable when produced in scale, they will make it easier to respond. But we should not wait, we cannot wait, we must not wait.” — Al Gore

“To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them.” — Theodore Roosevelt

A look back on Earth Day through history:
According to Wikipedia, Earth Day 2007 was one of the largest Earth Days to date, with an estimated billion people participating in the activities in thousands of places like Kiev, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; Tuvalu; Manila, Philippines; Togo; Madrid, Spain; London; and New York. Founded by the organizers of the first April 22 Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network promotes environmental citizenship and year round progressive action worldwide.

Earth Day Network is a driving force steering environmental awareness around the world. Through Earth Day Network, activists connect change in local, national, and global policies. Earth Day Network’s international network reaches over 17,000 organizations in 174 countries, while the domestic program engages 5,000 groups and over 25,000 educators coordinating millions of community development and environmental protection activities throughout the year. Earth Day is the only event celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. More than a half billion people participate in Earth Day Network campaigns every year.

What is happening around the world this week?
1. In San Francisco, Green Apple Festival is hosting its second annual event in Golden Gate Park. Should be a wild and fun event with Bill McKibben as a guest speaker, live music and a goal to get 1 million calls to congress for tougher Climate Change legislation.
2. In Barcelona, organizers are hosting the Catalunya Earth Fair to be held in Parc de la Ciutadella. Theme: the Fight Against Genetically Modified Organism which Poison the Planet.

3. In Buenos Aires, there is an event in Plaza Naciones Unidas (United Nations Square), organized by Butterfly Comunicación Ambiental. Theme: not an academic, entertaining but also with purpose to raise awareness. The event will target the 4 main environmental issues in Argentina: Garbage, Energy, Water, Transportation.

4. In Miami, Green Apple Festival comes for the first time with an event for the whole family. Environmental leaders, community activists, A-list talent and top speakers will all CALL FOR CLIMATE, a demand for immediate, effective and equitable action against global warming.

5. Tokyo is holding an event in Yoyogi Park, organized by Earthday Tokyo, a Social Movement promoting a greener economy. Focus topics include Earthday Energy Action, managed 100% by green energy, solar, bio-diesel and hydrogen. Earthday Food Action: Organic, locally produced, non-GMO food will be available from over 40 different restaurants, cafes on site. Earthday Agri Action : Organic Farmers Market.

Thousands of other events are happening with an estimated one billion people participating around the world. Join in the fun and do your share.

Organic Cotton vs. Conventional: What’s the difference?

Photosource: NYTimes.com/2005

There are a number of important differences between conventional and organic cotton. Starting from the tilling of the soil to the selection of seeds, labor paid and water used, organic cotton farming requires significant investment of time and resources to radically overhaul conventional cotton growing methods.

Cotton is a crop that attracts a wide range of insects (eg cutworm, cotton bollworm, tobacco bollworm, army worm, loopers, aphids, whitefly, spider mite among others). This is one of the reasons why it is one of the largest pesticide dependent crops in the world.

The following table outlines some of the major differences at each stage of the growing process. Sources used for this table include: National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Organic Exchange, Organic Trade Association (OTA), and Harmony Art Organic Designs. For more information on organic cotton certification, please visit OTA or OneCert.

ORGANIC VS. CONVENTIONAL COTTON COMPARED

Click to enlarge images. The following chart (2 pages) was created for Green Cotton using the sources mentioned above.

For a similar chart by Harmony Art Ogranic Designs, please visit her beautiful website: http://www.harmonyart.com/

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Organic Cotton: Easing the Transition

Photo source: looporganic.com

It is clear that producing organic cotton, especially certified organic cotton, costs more. The transition from conventional growing to organic growing can be a significant burden on the small to medium size farmer.

While it is true that certified organic cotton can receive a price premium, worth the cost of investment, the process of certification can take months to years. Meanwhile, the farmer must invest thousands of dollars in transforming its farming practices to meet the certification requirements.

Organic farming upgrades include:
• Transition to zero pesticide use (FYI cotton happens to be one of the highest-pesticide dependent crops in the world so transitioning the crop to no pesticides and still yielding a productive, viable crop is no small feat). See Green Cotton for more information.
• Better use of water management
• Must be grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment.
• Farming production systems must replenish and maintain soil fertility.
• Farming must reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers; and,
• Organic farming must build biologically diverse agriculture.

While the above list of organic farming requirements are all terrific, they are, as one can imagine, incredibly costly. Unless a farmer can ensure that the new crop will yield the price premium it deserves, transitioning over to these methods could mean the end of their business.

We have all read lately about the 3 and 4 fold surge in organic cotton demand. For example, organic cotton sales, not including other organic fibers, reached $1.1 billion in 2006 and is projected to double to $2+ billion in 2007 (Organic Exchange 2007). More and more retailers are demanding use of organic fabrics, including some of the largest ones (e.g. Wal-Mart, Barney’s and Target). At the same time, the supply can not easily keep up with demand, especially when certified organic farming can take years to establish.

As noted in the above requirements, it can be very risky for a farmer to transition too quickly unless they can be assured that there is a buyer. Furthermore, because the organic transition can take years to complete, the in between years mean higher costs for farmers and potentially low returns if not going out of business.

There are some retailers however who are recognizing this problem, AND in addition to being benevolent, happen to be the largest potential buyers of the organic cotton themselves. As such they are willing to step in and ease the transition for farmers by buying their transition product at the premium price. To be specific, Wal-Mart recently offered to pay transition farmers, those that are converting their farming practices from conventional to organic, the premium price for organic, even though their product is not yet certified. Side question: Is Wal-Mart going to label this product in their stores as organic cotton? This is one issue, since there is A LOT of organic cotton on the market that is not truly certified organic. Suppliers tend to overuse the term for the benefit of marketing, without communicating the whole truth as to whether it is CERTIFIED or not. This is a side note, but something for consumers to be aware of when they shop for organic clothing…

All in all, by Wal-Mart paying the interim premium price, it helps the farmers lower their risk, remain in business, AND be well-positioned to provide the increased supply needed of organic cotton to buyers such as Wal-Mart and Barney’s who want the organic cotton.

Note: Organic Certification requires a 3rd party organization to verify that farmers are using the methods and materials allowed in organic certification. Find out more about organic cotton certification at the Organic Trade Association .

You can also check out OneCert, one of the oldest and most reputable certification organizations on the market: http://www.onecert.net/

You can read more on this particular issue at Reuters.

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