Plastic vs Bioplastic

At the Co-op, we’re having a fascinating debate on whether to use plastic for packaging dry goods we supply, such as rice and quinoa, or bioplastic. The bioplastic is controversial, as there are no bioplastic sources that we know of that are guaranteed to be free of GMO’s.

I’m glad we’re discussing it, trying to find a solution, rather than just letting it slide, or making an unconsidered choice. Just by looking, I believe we’re shifting things.

This, for now, is my personal opinion – I’d love to hear comments that can inform it.

The first thing to realise is that we’re choosing between bioplastic that possibly or probably contains genetically modified material, and plastic, made from oil.

All of us will agree that neither option is ideal, but those are the choices. It’s always useful to look beyond what seem to be the limitations, the obvious choices. A simple example is the question of nuclear versus coal. Neither are ideal, but in that case one can look outside, and see a third option, renewable energy. In our case, a third option would be bioplastic that is certified not to contain genetically modified material. That also has it’s own problems, but it would be a better choice. Unfortunately, I there don’t seem to be any right now (please help prove me wrong!), so, for now, we have to choose between bioplastic that may contain GM, and plastic.

Which then supports the greater good, and does the least harm?

Since this post was originally a response to other’s comments, it takes the form of answering some points raised. It should be easy enough to divine the original point!

I don’t believe customer backlash should be an issue. I prefer to make the right choice, and bring our customers along with us, rather than settle for what they want if I think it’s wrong. After all, we’ve already suffered a form of customer backlash by offering more expensive, organic food, when most people still buy cheaper, chemically-grown food.

We all support things we don’t want to. Our money (through taxes) has supported the pharmaceutical industry, has bought arms, been wasted on corruption, on kickbacks. But it’s also built roads, provided pensions to seniors and support for vulnerable children. The human condition is one of imperfection and ambiguity. I don’t agree that us supporting the oil companies already implies we should do so even more. We also support the GM companies by offering soya, and the arms industry by paying taxes. I don’t think any of us want to provide more support any of those industries.

Packaging that contains GM materials is certainly not harmless to the environment. But I believe that it’s less harmful.

  • producing plastic uses 65% (these figures differ, but all seem to agree that bioplastics use less energy) more energy than producing bioplastic
  • plastic is very definitely toxic
  • plastic lasts a long time and does huge damage to the sea, where much of it eventually ends up. Of course we must encourage recycling, and minimal packaging, but that applies to all forms of packaging, not just plastic.
  • plastic is absolutely unsustainable. Bioplastic is more sustainable. Personally I believe that with most of us switching to vegetarian diet, there will be more than enough land to support us all with food, and renewably grown, minimal, packaging.
  • buying plastic provides 100% explicit support to the oil companies, while buying bioplastic provides an unknown level of support to the GM companies

GM companies are doing harm, however, the oil companies are perhaps even more so, and are already the cause of untold suffering, poverty, pain and misery for millions around the world.

So, for now I support continuing to use our current bioplastic over plastic, while at the same time searching for a better solution.

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4 Comments to “Plastic vs Bioplastic”

  1. Beth Terry [Visitor]
    November 15, 2007

    This is such a good discussion to have. While you’re “thinking outside the bag,” consider offering your customers reusable bags made from natural fibers. I use thin organic cotton/fair trade bags for my dry goods and produce. One good source for them is http://www.ecobags.com/Our_Products/Produce_Bags. As a store, you can probably find them elsewhere at wholesale prices.

    The bags work great. For produce, it’s good to dampen them before putting into the refrigerator. When they get dirty, I toss them into the washing machine with the rest of the laundry. It’s a lot easier than washing plastic bags, which I also do.

    I know cotton bags would be too expensive to give away for free, but you could encourage your customers to buy them by explaining why disposable bags, either corn-based or petro-based, are ultimately not sustainable and why reusing is better than recycling or composting.

    I belong to a local Green Sangha chapter, and one of our actions is to give away these bags, asking for a donation to cover the cost, at local Farmer’s Markets. A lot of people are willing to pay for them!

    Just a thought. By the way, I blog all about plastic and finding ways to reduce our plastic waste and plastic consumption at http://www.fakeplasticfish.com. You might find some more ideas for reducing plastic at the Co-op on the site, or share your own ideas.

    Beth

  2. Max
    February 23, 2009

    Plastic bottles are a growing problem in our landfills and oceans. We felt that something needed to be done……and now.

    We knew that there wasn’t going to be one “fix it all” answer and began to wonder if anything was ever going to be done. The problem was growing every day, more bottles were being manufactured and more bottles were accumulating in places where we didn’t need them.

    We were wondering if “Earth Friendly Bottles” would ever be available?

    That’s why decided to do our part and started ENSO Bottles. We are partnering with other companies to offer a PET plastic bottle that will biodegrade, compost or recycle.
    Our plastic bottles can enter the normal recycling stream with regular PET plastic bottles.

    ENSO’s goal is to achieve sustainability with our plastic bottles. WE feel that ENSO plastic bottles can provide a useful service and have a positive impact on our environment.

    We all need to do our part and support recycling programs, construction of bio-reactor landfills and continue developing technology that will make plastics “Earth Friendly.”
    We’re doing those things at ENSO, we offer a plastic bottle that is earth friendly…it’s just one step in the right direction. If we all take just one step toward improving our planet….we will make a difference.

    Max
    Ensobottles.com

  3. Stella
    August 18, 2009

    Have you come across ‘plastic’ bottles made from cornstarch yet? They are fully biodegradeable – and they make ‘plastic bags’ from cornstarch too – again fully degradeable and can even be used for kitchen food waste and then thrown in the compost! All the convenience of plastic, but with a clear conscience:)

  4. Bioplastics
    January 9, 2010

    Co-Op always insist that the feedstock for any bioplastic packaging they use comes from non-GM crops. This limits their possible applications because a lot of bioplastics comes from GM crops but it’s nice to see they care about sourcing that much :-)