EarthTalk: Many foods like tuna and pet foods
that formerly were sold only in cans are now available in
“pouches” as well. Is this kind of packaging
less harmful to the environment or just cheaper to make
for the seller?
-- Stefanie Galdolfi, Oakland, CA
and pet food pouches use less energy and fewer resources
in their manufacture, storage and transport, but are
more difficult to recycle than the traditional tin-coated
steel cans they are increasingly replacing on grocery
© Jeanne Licari
pouches, which are made from a combination of food-grade
aluminum foil, plastic and adhesives, do appear to have
some front-end environmental advantages over the cans they
are increasingly replacing on supermarket shelves. However,
they are not as easily recycled.Tuna and pet food pouches
use less energy and fewer resources in their manufacture,
storage and transport, but are more difficult to recycle
than the traditional tin-coated steel cans they are increasingly
replacing on grocery shelves.
Food pouches take up far less space and weight (in both
warehouses and on supermarket shelves) and are simpler to
manufacture than tin-coated steel cans. Minneapolis-based
flexible packaging manufacturer Kapak Corporation reports
that one truckload of the pouches it makes has the same
holding capacity as 25 truckloads of traditional rigid containers
(cans), and saves as much as 96 percent in warehouse storage
space. The company also says its pouches use 75 percent
less energy than cans to manufacture, and that they reduce
the amount of source materials needed to make cans by a
factor of 25 to one.
to Anthony Andrady, author of the 2003 book, Plastics and
the Environment, the pouches used to store Whiskas cat food
require 30 percent less retorting time (retorting is the
process of pressurizing the interior of the vessel to ensure
it is sterilized) than the 10 ounce steel cans they replaced
because the pouch can be heated more evenly and quickly.
“That translates directly into reduced energy use
for the retorting process and probably into a decrease in
the amount of cooling water required as well,” he
the down side, most of these pouches, despite their upfront
advantages, are destined for the landfill once they are
empty because their multi-material construction makes them
difficult to recycle. Some manufacturers, like California-based
Flex Products Inc., are working on variations of the pouch
that are less complex and inherently more recyclable than
what’s on supermarket shelves right now, but such
products may be years away from widespread adoption. Nevertheless,
technological improvements could make recycling of pouches
more feasible in the future.
contrast, the tin-coated steel cans that tuna and pet foods
usually come in are both easy to recycle and are likely
to have been manufactured with a large percentage of recycled
steel to begin with. In fact, most steel used in the U.S.
today contains a large percentage of recycled material (and
creating new steel cans from recycled materials uses only
about a quarter of the energy needed to produce them from
raw materials). And steel cans are not just recycled to
make new cans; they provide raw material for a variety of
steel products, including bicycles, car parts, washing machines,
refrigerators and tools.
not sure what to do (it is a tough call)? Perhaps Cook’s
Country magazine’s cans-versus-pouches tuna taste
test will break the tie: The magazine tested eight brands
of solid white albacore packed in water (the most popular
tuna variety), and canned tuna took four of the five top
spots. The main reason given by samplers was bigger and
meatier chunks of fish in the cans, compared to the “mushier,
less appealing texture” of the tuna in the pouches.
Kapak Corporation; Steel
Recycling Institute; Cook’s
EarthTalk: I’m in the market for new
furniture. What should I look for in natural furniture and
where do I find it? -- Debbie Fine, Philadelphia, PA
to greener furniture is one of the healthiest things
you can do for your family and the planet. Pictured
here is an all-natural Alfred Loveseat from Furnature
Along with replacing
your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents
and driving your car less, upgrading to greener furniture
is one of the healthiest things you can do for your family
and the planet. Most furniture is made with wood from the
tropics, so the chair you are now sitting in may have played
a role in rainforest deforestation, loss of wildlife habitat,
even global warming (cutting forests releases carbon dioxide).
Also, furniture is often full of chemicals that release
unhealthy fumes into your home.
a green-minded couch potato to do? Looking for furniture
made of wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council
(FSC) is a good place to start. Founded in 1992, FSC establishes
standards for sustainable forestry around the world, and
certifies timber operations that follow its guidelines.
A growing number of furniture makers are availing themselves
of FSC-certified wood in order to meet increasing demand
for greener products. Local furniture stores usually stock
some FSC-certified products (the best way to find out is
to call and ask), and many manufacturers now showcase and
sell FSC products online.
bamboo furniture is strong and resilient and usually harvested
from sustainable sources. Stainless steel, most of which
is recycled, is also a good eco-friendly furniture framing
choice. Also, many cutting edge furniture designers are
making use of reclaimed timber and other recycled materials
in their products, breathing new life into old wood and
sparing live trees in the process.
The other major
issue with traditional furniture is the pollution from all
the noxious synthetic chemicals used to produce it. One
leading culprit is formaldehyde, a known carcinogen found
in furniture made from pressed wood and particle board and
in many of the glues and resins used to bind furniture frames,
padding and upholstery together. Another villain is synthetic
flame-retardant, commonly added to foam filler materials
and linked to human nervous system and reproductive disorders
(accordingly, it has been banned by the states of Washington
and California, as well as the European Union).
Luckily, a large
number of non-toxic alternatives are now available to manufacturers.
Water-based glues, for example, do not contain formaldehyde
or synthetic chemicals. Also, designs such as tongue and
groove joinery eliminate the need for adhesives altogether.
And a handful of natural materials, such as wool batting,
can work well as flame-retardants while providing ample
committed to non-toxic and/or recycled materials and FSC-certified
or reclaimed wood include Vivanti, the Joinery, Woodshanti,
Furnature, Pacific Rim Woodworking, Berkeley Mills, Steckley
Woodcrafts and Urban Hardwoods, among many others. Many
of these producers specialize in higher end custom orders
but also offer readymade items. For a quick fix, browse
the aisles of Ikea, which besides being committed to less
toxic materials, is also a big buyer of FSC-certified wood.
Stewardship Council; Vivavi;
Rim Woodworking; Berkeley
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