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Attack of the Plastic Monster

 
Posts: 174
Location: North Coast Dominican Republic
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Why does it seem like every time we have something in our lives that is, or can be made eco-friendly, an "improvement" nullifies that possibility? I remember when paper milk cartons were just paper; they could be used as kindling or even recycled as paper. So of course, someone somewhere thought this required the "improvement" of that little plastic cap and nozzle. Now, you can't find a paper milk carton without one.

I also remember when a bag of chocolate chip cookies had them in two sleeves, like saltine crackers. So of course, someone had to "improve" the packaging by replacing the sleeves with a plastic frame -- which had the dual "advantages" of increasing the volume of plastic waste and reducing the number of cookies in the bag.

Then the Plastic Monster attacked coffee. Apparently, drip coffee makers with paper filters didn't produce enough plastic waste, so it became necessary to invent Keurig coffee makers, which only take Keurig cups. This had the added "benefit" that a package of Keurig cups makes fewer cups of coffee than a bag of loose grounds. And also that it is harder to gather the spent grounds for compost.

Meanwhile, all sorts of things now come in individually packaged servings that didn't used to. Something in me died when I first saw Lunchables; little did I know they were just the beginning of a deluge. Now some yogurt cups come with an attached cup of a couple spoonfuls of granola. And apparently bags of ready-mixed salad also didn't produce enough plastic waste, because now I see compartmentalized "salad kits," with each ingredient in a separate compartment.

Well, on the bright side, I suppose I can be grateful I have not yet met personally with this apparition of the Plastic Monster, shared by a Facebook friend in Brazil:
 
gardener
Posts: 562
Location: SoCal USA
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You have the added benefit of knowing that orange was handled by someone else even more too, but I'm sure there's no chance of contamination of food by improper handling!  8D "We removed the natural packaging which works just fine, and replaced it with toxic gick that involves greater labor costs too! Lose-Lose!
 
gardener
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Location: Central Texas zone 8a
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I thought about this recently.  Looked back over my life and things that changed. Then i look at the current obsessions and wonder whats next.

Back when there were only 3 tv stations (plus pbs) there was a special segment. Maybe it was "60 minutes ". I don't remember. But it analyzed canned breen beans. The average was something like 2.8 bugs per can.. It created outrage. The type of outrage "that something ought to be done ".

So then i think, was this good reporting, bad reporting, or was this a conspiracy created by big chemical. Did this one show start the obsession of pesticides, or was this path inevitable. People were grossed out. Everyone watched it. If they didnt, they heard about it.

The second was the transition from paper bags to plastic bags. There was a big "save the trees"  movement. Did big plastic take the "save the tree" movement to weasel in. For a while,  it was a gradual thing where you had a choice.  Paper or plastic? Then the paper went away. Was plastic coming anyway or did the "save the tree" movement cause it.

Its the outrage and current "in" things that cause these product shifts. "Bpa free plastic". Bpa was needed or it wouldn't be there. What did they replace it with? Is it any better? Gluten free" being advertised on stuff that never had gluten. Are GMO free labeled blueberries full of pesticides?  Its like these new buzzwords take us off the bigger picture of what poisons we are ingesting. People are laughing all the way to the bank.

Finally i look at all the current outrages going on in the USA and think we are truly fucked, cause people are angry about everything. Some truly stupid stuff can from it.

 
pollinator
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I was reading this and nodding along and then realize I am sitting here with my Individually wrapped reese's cups.  A hypocrite with a face stuffed with chocolate and peanut butter. The break out on my face will serve me right.

It seems like there is always something else I need to fix in my habits. Some days it just feels discouraging and overwhelming like I will never get my act together.
 
pollinator
Posts: 375
Location: San Diego, California
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On another thread recently, Dale was mentioning that the customers didn't want to buy his home-made, organic, wonderfully simple and low-cost soap bars(in part) because they didn't come in plastic packaging - they'd rather spend more money on something just to exult in the pretty plastic words and pictures on the label, and throw it away later on the street.

I also hate when Amazon sends a perfectly good item (already in sturdy, nondescript box packaging) in ANOTHER, bigger box - just put the label on the first box, or wrap it in brown paper if you want to cover it up!!
 
Posts: 189
Location: NNSW Australia
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I baulk at plastic wrapping when I see it too.

But, it seems that both growing the food and/or wasting the food can be hundreds of times worse for the environment than the packaging.

data shows that the environmental footprint of food often exceeds that of its primary packaging; for example, beef emits 370 times more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than packaging and cucumbers emit 178 times more greenhouse gases than packaging



The packaging can also be justified in terms of reduced carbon footprint by avoided food waste - Oregon.gov Packaging Analysis
This report points out that packaging should be increased for carbon intensive products like meat and cheese and reduced for cheap, less-dense foods like bread.
And that a good deal of produce wouldn't have made it to the point of sale or had a decent shelf-life without packaging.

It's worth remembering the incredible amount of (inefficient) inputs in commercially produced food and it's transport against the incredibly efficient industrial processes that go to make that thin layer of plastic around your food.
Also, compare the weight of plastic wrapping against any other piece of hard plastic tat (say, a USB drive) - and the case for food-packaging becomes easier to stomach.

-

If you switch from buying packaged produce to unpackaged produce, it would have a negligible effect on your carbon footprint.
Sure, none of this changes the horrors of plastic polluting the environment.
But I think global warming is a higher priority than plastic pollution at present, making packaging sensible from government/commercial/environmental perspectives.
 
Posts: 1695
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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I was eating one of those yogurts with the separate compartment when I opened this. So much shame, I feel.
 
master pollinator
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Comparing single-use disposable plastics and hard plastic is a non-starter. What is the lifespan of a modern USB key versus that of the cling wrap on the polystyrene tray? Which will degrade faster and more completely into the environment into which it's discarded?

As to the "need" of additional plastic packaging to safeguard food against spoilage, I find it difficult to believe that there aren't better means of food preservation available. And yes, maybe we need to start eating differently, but personally, I think the best way to make sure we don't have a lot of, say, meat spoilage is to close down the giant, international-scale meat processors in favour of local, farm-based slaughter and processing facilities, and local butchers. Spoilage is greatly reduced by not exposing all the meat to all the other meat's disease environments, and by keeping it in whole carcasses, with minimal surface area, before it hits the point of sale, which should be the butcher.

As a side-note, the inventor of the Keurig is on record with his own horror at what the marketing machine did to his invention. His intent was that everyone use the coffee they were buying, filling reusable pods with grounds rather than having disposable ones.

Also, there are a great many paper and natural fibre-based biodegradable coffee pods now on offer because of the consumer backlash to all that added plastic. All that's needed is consumer and political will to change.

-CK
 
Mark Brunnr
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Location: SoCal USA
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Ultimately I think teaching the general public that they are living in the consumer Matrix and to take the red pill is the only way to make serious change. Otherwise as we all learn about the evils of "this" or "that", caused by "them", there's always a solution that requires us to just buy the latest new thing. Is Oceania at war with Eurasia or Eastasia this year? Is fat the enemy this time, or is it sugar? We've always been at war with sugar, and fat has always been our ally! And here's a brand new product that will take all the guesswork out of your miserable, confusing reality! Put down that old history book, and instead read the latest about the this great new fad, you girls will lose 10 pounds in 10 minutes, you guys will gain 10 inches and last 10 hours, and you all will be Happy and Successful, just so long as YOU BUY OUR PRODUCT.

 
Jondo Almondo
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Location: NNSW Australia
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As to the "need" of additional plastic packaging to safeguard food against spoilage, I find it difficult to believe that there aren't better means of food preservation available.



If an affordable, environmental means of fresh food preservation that scales to 7 billion people existed, it would be in use.
Your solution of only-local butchers would affect the food security of billions of people and potentially increase emissions and food poisoning.

It's a shame that our instinct is to rush towards simplification and conspiracy theory, when there is a complex issue, with lots of nuance and counter-intuitive science to be understood.
Plastic packaging has kept countless tonnes of methane out of the atmosphere, I can't even imagine the runaway-apocalypse scenario we'd be in without their invention.
 
pollinator
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Location: Victoria BC
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Jondo Almondo wrote:

As to the "need" of additional plastic packaging to safeguard food against spoilage, I find it difficult to believe that there aren't better means of food preservation available.



If an affordable, environmental means of fresh food preservation that scales to 7 billion people existed, it would be in use.
Your solution of only-local butchers would affect the food security of billions of people and potentially increase emissions and food poisoning.

It's a shame that our instinct is to rush towards simplification and conspiracy theory, when there is a complex issue, with lots of nuance and counter-intuitive science to be understood.
Plastic packaging has kept countless tonnes of methane out of the atmosphere, I can't even imagine the runaway-apocalypse scenario we'd be in without their invention.



Why would it be in use? It only has to cost a tiny amount more than the current system, for the current system to prevail in an even contest where there are no points awarded for sustainability... that doesn't automatically make it UNaffordable, just LESS affordable.

To compete with the pre-existing current system in the real world, a new system would need to be notably cheaper, or there would need to be a massive shift in opinion. There are a lot of advantages to being the status quo..

Billions of people currently have *terrible* food security; what makes you believe that this sort of less centralized system would be a net negative to food security, in big picture terms?
 
gardener
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Location: West Tennessee
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Jondo Almondo wrote:

If an affordable, environmental means of fresh food preservation that scales to 7 billion people existed, it would be in use.



Those citrus wedges pictured in the first post once came in their own environmentally friendly fresh food preservation package, the peel. A lot of fresh foods do such as bananas, coconut, kiwi, mango, etc. come in their own "packaging". Other fresh foods that don't come in their own packaging such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus etc. just need refrigeration or be consumed within a few days of harvesting, not petroleum plastic products.

People are smart and can adapt. We've made it thousands of years without plastics to keep food "safe".


Jondo Almondo wrote: Your solution of only-local butchers would affect the food security of billions of people and potentially increase emissions and food poisoning.



Can you offer data to support this hypothesis? Local farms raising grass fed and pastured cows and being transported to a local butcher can drastically reduce emissions. There's no fuel burned to produce synthetic fertilizers and poisons to grow grains to harvest and transport by truck to gas fired grain driers to transport again to storage silos to transport again to a feed lot, which then has to be brought to the cows, upon which more fuel is burned to remove the manure and urine before those cows need to be transported to a processor. Local pasturing of cows, pigs, chickens, sheep that are processed locally drastically reduce emissions compared to the current food supply chain. Having millions of small farms all across America for example, increases food security instead of "having all the eggs in one basket" with just a handful of confined animal feeding operations supplying cheap meat to the masses. It takes a lot to keep those CAFO's propped up and prevent disease which could cause collapse. Small farm pasturing reduces disease and the threat of food borne illness from the start, and preventing food borne illness from handling can largely be prevented through education and safe handling practices.


Jondo Almondo wrote:Plastic packaging has kept countless tonnes of methane out of the atmosphere, I can't even imagine the runaway-apocalypse scenario we'd be in without their invention.



Again, I kindly ask if you can provide data to support this hypothesis. I can't imagine how extracting petroleum from the earth to then process into plastics, which requires a lot of energy, has prevented the release of tonnes of methane into the atmosphere. I think the notion that plastics has prevented a "runaway-apocalypse scenario" may be untrue, as I'd like to note again that we've survived for many millennia without plastics, and we are smart, and can adapt, and find better ways.
 
Chris Kott
master pollinator
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If anything, because plastic packaging makes food more durable in storage and transportation, more is produced and stocked than before, increasing overall food wasted when it fails to sell.

If the only storage options available were non-plastic durable or biodegradable, there would be less systemic waste, because there would be less of a margin for error.

If perishable food goods couldn't travel too well, local perishable food business would boom. Eating seasonally wouldn't be a fad; it would be called eating.

The pro-plastic argument is the same nonsense as the pro-petroleum argument. It has certainly been the most energy-dense fuel available for over a century for transportation purposes. It is correct to say that if it disappeared without a trace today, our societies would be in trouble.

This doesn't confer some special status to petroleum, or by extension, to plastic. These are simply technologies whose weaknesses we didn't want to see or understand at time of adoption, whose artificial cheapness outcompeted more sustainable solutions, and whose environmental impacts we now have to shoulder.

Basically, petroleum and all that came from it was a mistake to adopt as it was, and most thinking people are really frustrated at the intellectual deceit inherent in clinging to notions that it is okay. Unwrapping produce from its natural, biodegradable wrapper to then seal it in plastic is just stupid icing on a moron cake.

-CK
 
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