I'm praising one company today for its sustainability message, so forgive me for going negative on two others. My targets -- Repurpose Compostables Inc. and Bed Bath & Beyond stores, for their misleading messages about line of compostable cups made from polylactic acid. A few weeks ago PlasticsNews.com posted a story about the cups from our sister publication Waste & Recycling News. The original WRN story said: "Repurpose cups are made from polylactic acid -- made from corn -- and require 65 percent less carbon dioxide to make than plastic, the company said. The lids also are compostable, and no plastic means the cups are nontoxic." Plastics industry defender and consulting engineer Allan Griff spotted that paragraph and sent me a quick note: "I assume the cupmaker said this, but PLA is a plastic, isn't it?" Absolutely right, I replied, so I quickly corrected the story. But Griff wasn't finished. He did some research on what else Repurpose and Bed Bath were saying about the cups, and he found more misleading information. Both companies were openly contrasting their PLA product with "plastic," he said, feeding the public's fear of the plastics industry. Griff found this on the Bed Bath & Beyond site:
The plant-based cup is made from corn, not oil like traditional disposable cups, so it's non-toxic and BPA free. It also lowers your carbon footprint, and uses soy based inks, so it is compatible with a zero waste program. Includes set of 12 cups and 12 lids.As Griff points out, mentioning BPA in a commercial message about foam cups is like putting "no trans fats" on a water bottle label. Of course there's no bisphenol A. There's none in polystyrene cups, either. So he added this review to the company's website, in the consumer comments section:
BB&B misinforms us. The cup material may be compostable, but who does this at home, and how many cities do it? As for petroleum, it takes plenty of petrobased energy to grow the corn and convert it to the compostable plastic (yes, plastic) PLA. As for carbon dioxide, by far the biggest producers are heating, cooling, lighting and transportation, and all this greenwashing is really a distraction from having to deal with room temperatures, lighting waste, and capricious car use.He did some more checking and found that the cup maker, Repurpose, said this about itself:
Repurpose was founded in 2009 by a group of young environmental entrepreneurs, looking for quality solutions to the problem of single-use petroleum-based plastic products ... its mission [is] to replace all single-use disposable plastics with high quality, innovative, plant-based alternatives. Repurpose makes products from plants, not petroleum, using Ingeo resin.Its FAQ section sometimes calls the cups polymers, but stresses the differences between PLA and plastic. For example, it says: "Repurpose products are now available to consumers and to businesses allowing everyone the opportunity to lessen their dependence on oil, lower their carbon footprint, and find non-toxic, safe alternatives to plastic." Looking further, Griff found more information that he considered misleading. One section says: "The revolutionary new insulated cup requires no sleeve, uses 65 percent less CO2 than a traditional cup to produce, and can be composted in 90 days." Griff wrote to me: "But what are they talking about? We don't use CO2 to make cups. And we want to get it out of the atmosphere, not leave more in! "What's a "traditional cup" now? Do they mean the foam cup, or the Starbuck Standard -- a paper cup with PE coating and a paper sleeve? If they mean that the manufacture of the cup uses less energy and production of energy creates CO2, that's creating less, not using less! And if they compare with paper as traditional, doesn't paper degenerate in composting as well? "And if they compare [Repurpose cups] with foam cups, I'm not sure it takes more energy to produce them. The biggest energy impact of the foam cups arises from their lightness and volume, which means fewer cups per truck and thus more truck fuel per cup to ship it to its point of sale/use. I don't think they think that way. They got the words "less CO2" together, that sounds green and that's enough for them." Did I mention that Griff is a pit bull when it comes to defending plastics against misinformation? What's the next step? Griff is sharing his correspondence with the American Chemistry Council's plastics division, and he's also including it in his file of topics to discuss in a course he teaches at the University of California Berkeley Adult Extension program, "Plastics in the Environment." That's not a typo -- Griff is teaching a course on plastics in the environment at Berkeley. Plastics Blog readers in California should consider enrolling -- it's sure to be both informative and entertaining. Meanwhile, I'm happy to share Griff's efforts to shine the light on some companies that are using "bolonium" [one of his favorite terms] to prey on public plastophobia. Well done, Allan Griff. Keep up the good work.