Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Problem with Disposable Coffee Cups

Did you know that if you buy just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, you'll create about 23 pounds of waste in one year?

Because so many disposable containers are used throughout the world — and because the resources required to make those cups are considerable — the environmental consequences can be quite staggering.

According to Ideal Bite , eighteen percent of garbage we produce is composed of disposable containers. Beverage cups made of virgin paper or — worse yet — styrofoam, make up a large chunk of that waste.

Americans trash about 25 billion styrofoam cups each year. This nasty material does not biodegrade. So 500 years from now, the polystyrene cup you toss out today will still exist either in a landfill or somewhere in our environment.

Most paper cups for hot beverages are laminated with a plastic resin. This process keeps your beverages warm and inhibits leaking — but it also prevents the cups from being recycled. Starbucks now makes its disposable cups with 10% recycled content. They won't use a higher percentage because the recycled cups they've tried in the past leaked or failed and customers complained. There is a new type of biodegradable and compostable paper coffee cup available, but they are a bit more expensive, relatively resource intensive to produce and have not yet been widely adopted across the country.

The fact is, no matter what they’re made of, most disposable beverage cups end up in landfills. But there is something you can do about it. Join the growing movement towards reducing coffee cup waste.

We’ve been working with a great new non-profit, Green Cafe Network , which is greening all aspects of the coffeehouse industry and harnessing café culture for environmental education. More cafes are working to cut energy consumption and expand recycling and composting programs. Many now offer discounts if you bring your own cup.

Our partner company, eco imprints, offers a wide range of stylish, insulated, leak-resistant reusable coffee tumblers you can personalize and tote around. We've done a lot of research on the subject, and vetted out the best suppliers. Our favorites are made of stainless steel, but we carry tumblers made of corn plastic, biodegradable plastic, recycled plastic, and other durable materials.

It's true that manufacturing reusable cups creates a bigger initial environmental impact than paper cups. However, that impact lessens over time as the reusable cup is, uh, reused. Each reusable cup has a “magic number” of uses at which point it becomes more environmentally friendly than a paper cup.

Sustainability Engineer Pablo Påster published a study last year in Treehugger, which found that after 24 uses, a stainless steel tumbler breaks even with a paper cup in terms of environmental impacts.

Considering that most reusable mugs are designed to be used at least 3,000 times, the positive eco impact of a reusable tumbler can be enormous.

To assure you always have a reusable mug when we need your caffeine fix, you can always keep a few extras on hand: one at home, one at the office, one on your bike, in your car or in your bag.

The daily impact of reusable beverage holders may seem small, but it adds up quickly. We're encouraging corporate clients, non-profits, and individuals to switch over to reusable tumblers.

If we can all get more friends, family and responsible organizations involved ...the reusable revolution will grow, and Mother Earth will get a much-needed coffee cup break.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Secret Code of Plastic Recycling

Did you ever notice that most plastic items are marked somewhere with the number 1-7 inside a recycling arrow symbol?

This mark is part of a system that identifies various types of plastics. It indicates how and where you can recycle different plastic items from your home and office. Unfortunately, the presence of one of these symbols doesn't mean that these materials may be recycled everywhere. You must check with your local municipal waste service. The first two types — PET and HDPE — are the most common forms of plastic, so they are the easiest to recycle. Others, like PVC, contain more nasty chemicals but should be recycled to keep toxins out of the environment.

Here’s a guide to the plastic recycling code, plus some common products you’ll find of each plastic type:

#1 PET (Polyethylene terephthalate): soda bottles, oven-ready meal trays and water bottles. PET plastic is the most common for single-use bottled beverages, because it is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20%), though the material is in high demand by remanufacturers.

#2 HDPE (High-density polyethylene): milk bottles, cereal box liners and grocery/trash/retail bags. HDPE is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.

#3 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride): plastic food wrap, loose-leaf binders and plastic pipes.PVC is tough and weathers well, so it is commonly used for piping, siding and similar applications. PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. If you must cook with PVC, don't let the plastic touch food. Also never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.

#4 LDPE (Low-density polyethylene): dry cleaning bags, produce bags and squeezable bottles. LDPE is a flexible plastic with many applications. Historically it has not been accepted through most American curbside recycling programs, but more and more communities are starting to accept it.

#5 PP (Polypropylene): medicine bottles, aerosol caps and drinking straws. Polypropylene has a high melting point, and so is often chosen for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.

#6 PS (Polystyrene): NASTY material used for compact disc jackets, plastic tableware, and worst of all... those horrible packaging styrofoam peanuts! Polystyrene can be made into rigid or foam products — in the latter case it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. The material was long on environmentalists' hit lists for dispersing widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to recycle. Most places still don't accept it, though it is gradually gaining traction.

#7: A wide variety of plastic resins that don't fit into the previous categories are lumped into number 7. Other: three- and five-gallon reusable water bottles, certain kinds of food containers and Tupperware. A few are even made from plants (polyactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, and is the hard plastic that has parents worried these days, after studies have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors.

If you must use plastic products for your marketing and promotional campaigns, please consider using the recycled and recyclable kind. From wearables, to journal covers, to pens and bags, there are many cool, practical promotional products made of recycled plastic. We can help you find them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Organic Cotton Vs. Conventional Cotton

People often ask us why we recommend organic cotton apparel at our promotional product firm, eco imprints. After all, a conventional cotton shirt looks pretty much the same as an organic cotton shirt. And they're typically cheaper than organic.

Looks can be deceiving.

The processes used to grow conventional cotton are quite destructive to the environment. Conventionally grown cotton consumes 25% of the insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides used in the WORLD today! Conventional farming devours roughly 150 grams of pesticides and fertilizers to produce enough cotton for a SINGLE T-shirt.

Here's a look at cultivation practices that clearly differentiate conventional and organic cotton farming:

Conventional cotton seeds are typically treated with fungicides or insecticides. Organic cotton uses untreated seeds.

Conventional cotton farmers apply herbicides to inhibit weeds. Organic cotton farmers physically remove weeds with hand-hoeing and cultivation, rather than through chemical destruction.

Conventional cotton uses insecticides and pesticides heavily. The 9 most common pesticides are highly toxic; five are probable carcinogens. And aerial spraying is frequently used, with potential drift onto workers, communities and wildlife. Organic Cotton farming maintains a balance between pests and other natural predators through healthy soil. It also uses "good" bugs, biological and cultural practices to control pests.

Using certified organic cotton for your corporate apparel programs shows a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Organic garments come from chemical and pesticide-free environments that protect our planet and the health of all creatures that live on it. That comfy organic cotton T-shirt is helping preserve our air, water and land.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Beautiful Balanced Ecosystem For Your Desk

As I write this post, about a dozen brine shrimp dart about in a softball-sized globe on my desk. They nibble on green algae coating the rocks inside. I have never fed them, nor cleaned the bowl, nor aerated their water. Their clear glass home is sealed airtight. Nothing goes in or out.

These shrimp are my carefree pets, living in a completely self-sustaining world. The algae produce food and oxygen from room light, the shrimp make carbon dioxide for the plants. Together the organisms support each other with no input from me, other than appreciation. Their globes are little sustainable planets of sorts, a balanced ecosystem that could in theory continue for years. We've had ours for only a few weeks, and we've grown quite fond of it.

These mico-worlds, called Ecospheres, have been around for some time and they come in several shapes and sizes. They are the easiest aquarium you'll ever find — and a lovely reminder of our self-sustaining eco system.

You can find these at stores like Brookstones for about $65, or you can purchase them from eco imprints for even less, including costs to customize with a subtle logo or message. Find out more here.

Keep in mind a system this small is sensitive to room conditions, and it can be easy to kill off the inhabitants before you find the optimal place in a room — which is warm but not brightly lit. The question many Ecosphere owners want to know is, how long will they live and can the shrimp reproduce? While an individual shrimp can live for up to 5 years, unlike most marine invertebrates, the endemic Hawaiian red brine shrimp reproduce very sparingly. There are reports of Ecospheres hatching shrimp fry, but they are rare enough to offer little hope yours will. However, even if the shrimp die, the algae will continue to live for decades or longer — an additional ecological lesson.

These little orbs of self-sustaining life are great instructional aids. If you like living things nearby but don't like the slavery of upkeep, they're perfect pet/gardens, ideal office mates, and they make wonderful sustainability-themed gifts.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Succulents Make a Great Green Corporate Gift

Not far from our home in West Marin, on a windy mesa just above the Pacific Ocean, is a world renowned botanical garden specializing in succulents.

The strange and beautiful plant forms we encountered while touring this magical 14-acre site last year inspired us to begin sourcing sustainably produced succulents as corporate gifts. We offer several types of small, pesticide-free succulents grown here in Northern California.

Succulents are a wonderful green promotion and a sensible alternative to cut floral designs. They are beautiful, drought tolerant, flourish with minimal care, and can be sustainably resourced.

Succulents have the ability to store water in their stems, leaves, or roots, or a combination of the above. They can be giant trees or tiny two-leaved miniatures. They come in an endless array of shapes, textures, colors and forms. Therefore, they are of great interest to collectors who appreciate their often other-worldy appearance.

More than many other plants, succulents are threatened by man's encroachment on habitat. So they are especially worthy of cultivation as either house plants or garden plants. We have a nice collection of potted succulents on our roof deck at eco imprints, and many mature specimens around our home in Marin. They take far less maintenance than their non-succulent counterparts, and they produce some amazing, long-lasting blooms — especially this time of year.

Even if you have a not-so-green thumb, you’ll do well with these hearty beauties!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Try Some Hemp

Apparel is an effective way to grow your brand and get your message out. Clothing sales account for roughly 40% of the entire promotional marketing industry.

Among fabric alternatives, comfy, affordable cotton is the corporate merchandising king. But in a hopeful sign of environmental consciousness, more corporate clients are purchasing organic cotton or recycled soda bottle apparel with non-toxic screen printing. Bay Area-based computer networking giant Cisco Systems just ordered a planeload of hemp-organic cotton blended shirts for its staff. Sweet!

What most people don't realize is that traditional cotton is not as "natural" as it feels. A typical cotton t-shirt requires 1/3-pound of chemical pesticides and 1740 gallons of water to grow the fabric used in production. (source: Panna / World Wildlife Federation) That’s enough water for you or I to drink for 9.5 years. And even more chemicals are used to process and dye.

Truly natural or organic cotton, on the other hand, does not require the use of pesticides for its cultivation. That's why we recommend organic cotton apparel and bags with natural dyes as the more responsible promotional choice.

An even better — but, in the U.S., harder to find alternative — is hemp. We're not talking marijuana, hemp's psychoactive brother.

Industrial hemp is an amazing product that grows easily without harmful chemicals. Hemp requires only rainfall to flourish, is four times stronger than cotton, is naturally anti-microbial, and naturally UVA protectant. Yet the U.S. government bans its cultivation and considers it no different than smokable marijuana. Much of this has more to do with fear-mongering politics and powerful corporate lobbyists than with common sense or health concerns.

Interestingly, industrial hemp was widely grown in the United States during colonial times. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp for making paper, rope, canvas, and textiles. It’s identified as one of the four main crops in early American history.

In fabric form, hemp is totally legal to import here. At Eco Imprints we offer several fashionable styles of soft blended hemp-organic cotton T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, and polos. Hemp typically costs more than cotton, but it's worth it.

It'll take a lot of change before hemp becomes mainstream, but more eco-minded individuals are discovering its unique value and qualities. So next time someone offers you some hemp, give it a try!