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Ethical Products explained – 1. Plastics

With so much “Green Washing” how do you figure out the best options on your road trip to making Sustethical choices (Tracy’s phrase for Sustainable and Ethical) and all while sticking to a budget?

I’ve always said the biggest issue with the Eco & Ethical story so far, is the fear of the unknown mixed with a mountain of confusion and perceived high costs. It seems as though as the Ethical options have increased over the last 10 – 14 yrs or so, so has the complexity and in some cases the cost.

So with so much conflicting information and technical terms how do you make a simple decision? In reality a lot of this is far easier to understand than you would think, so here goes, lets see what we can find.

This is part 1 of our Ethical Products Explained posts, where I talk about Plastics, where they come from and how they’re made. If you would like to know more about Eco Fabrics and Eco Paper then you can follow those articles too by using the links below.

  1. Eco Plastics – you’ll be surprised whats in your clothes as well as the items you buy in your beauty and grocery shopping.
  2. Eco-friendly Materials / Fabrics – Clothing fabrics made from alternative sources.
  3. Paper & Cardboard / Alternatives – You don’t always need trees to make Paper & Cardboard…

Now before I get started, lets start by saying its not for us to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. Of course we would like to encourage more people to do what they can, but that’s just the point, encourage. 

Not all of us can afford to go full throttle into an ethical life, we all have to to start at our own pace and within our own means, so there’s no pressure here from us, just the information we hope you’ll find useful.

I’ll also add that we’re no Scientists, we couldn’t break these things down into their component parts, but we can provide a link to the relative information and give you a basic outline right here to help you build a better understanding for yourselves.

Right that’s enough of that, lets dig in, oh and If you think I’ve missed something, or you’d like to know more please get in touch.


Eco Plastics

Plastics come in several different forms but when we see Eco Plastics what makes them Eco? Aren’t all Plastics bad for the planet? Well not all of them.

You can categorise Eco Plastics into 3 categories at the minute:

  1. Recycled petroleum-based plastics (Mostly Bad oil based plastics but reused rather than dumped)
  2. Plant-derived Bio Plastics (Plant fibres made into plastics)
  3. Miscellaneous / New technology. (Other non oil based Eco Options yet to be classified)

Each ECO plastic has different “Ethical / Green” properties. Remember however, that Recycled Plastic is no more biodegradable than the original plastic it comes from, but the catch here is its already here, so it is much better to re use it than drop it into a large hole in the earth.

If you would like to know more about what actually goes on with the products we recycle and plastic use throughout the world, you’ll be extremely surprised by watching this recent (May 2020) programme “The Story of Plastic” from the Discovery Channel. (Short clip below)

Recycled plastic is composed of varying percentages of Oil based “virgin” (non recycled), traditional plastic that doesn’t degrade quickly. However the Eco draw here is that some of that virgin plastic is reused to make other items instead of decomposing as micro plastic pollution, as litter or going straight into landfill.

So now it exists, as long as this plastic keeps being recycled then we can reduce its impact to some degree. A prime example of this existing plastic is Ocean Plastic or that collected in our home recycling collections.

However a few words of warning about Recycled Plastics:

1) if you mix non recyclable plastic in your collection or fail to wash it, you can actually contaminate the full lorry and this instead goes into landfill.

2) Recycled plastics downgrade as they are recycled so for example something once made of tough thick plastic, may be recycled into something thinner and weaker / more flexible, until finally in the last recycling in the chain it will be turned into something like a recycled plastic bag.

3) Check your local councils recycling abilities. It may sound strange but council recycling centres have different abilities, so check what your adding to your recycling bins to make sure that fits with your councils abilities. This information is normally available on your local council website.

BIO Plastics Diagram
BIO Plastics Diagram – source

Bioplastic (PLA / PHA) is made from plant material for example Corn Starch and as such it is thought to degrade relatively quickly and less harmfully in landfills and in some cases compost bins.

Bioplastic comes in the following forms which are generally starch-based (often corn starch), like Polyactide (PLA) plastic:

  1. Polyactide (PLA) plastic, which is the most common form, is found in things like biodegradable food-service trays and disposable cups.
  2. Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) plastic also uses starch, which is normally sourced from corn, sugar cane or beetroot and its typically used in things like Cosmetics Bottles.
  3. Cellulose-based plastics are made of cellulose, which comes from plant tissues. You can also find bioplastics made from soy protein or lactic acid.

There are also several more recent Bio plastics that would fit into a “miscellaneous” category.

An example of a miscellaneous Bio Plastic comes from ECM Biofilms who have come up with a way to add microbe-attracting pellets during the manufacturing process for traditional plastics, causing the end product to degrade faster in landfills [source: ACF ].

Also Novomer plans to create biodegradable plastic using carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (reacted with liquid metal), which would offer the double “green” whammy of biodegradability and removing harmful gasses from the air [source: CNET].

So while “Eco-plastics” offer some sort of environmental benefit over traditional virgin Oil based plastics, a lot of the future benefits are theory based and more use and time is required to fully understand them.

In theory, they are biodegradable and therefore much better for our environment, but as they are relatively new, the long-term research is still to be prepared .

For me personally, I think we are sadly stuck with historical plastics, we can’t avoid them and just hope they go away, so any way of recycling them into useful products makes sense. The next step must be to reduce how much we discard where possible. After that, the Plant Starch based Bio plastics seem like the best options for moving forward at the minute.

So next time you use a plastic product whether that’s in your wardrobe, your bathroom, your kitchen, your fridge or somewhere else in the house or while your out, take a look at what makes that plastic. In some cases you’ll be nicely surprised and maybe even find something listed in our Eco plastics list, however in most cases you’ll still find most is virgin plastic. If you would like that to change, the only way to get businesses to change their ways is to ask them through social media and vote with your wallet.

If you’d like to know which businesses we think are doing their best, stay tuned for more posts with more information coming soon.

This information has been collated using the following Source Article

Post series Source pages:

Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 Source 4 Source 5 source 6

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