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Glass Or Petrochemical Plastic Or Glass Or Biodegradable Plastic? 

It’s as complicated as it sounds. My internal debate never stops on this extremely troubling issue and it’s tortured me for years. 

Twelve years. Twelve years I’ve been debating this internally and to this day, glass has always been the ethical choice over petrochemical plastics. I’ve poured my products into glass containers for twelve years. Even though the petrochemical plastics have certain advantages, I’ve never been able to get past the outgassing and environmental impact issues. Old fashioned petrochemical plastics outgas to an entirely unacceptable degree and they never properly decompose if left to themselves. More than likely, they’ll find their way into our oceans, our atmosphere and into the bellies of innocent creatures. Utterly unacceptable on every level. 

So that’s old fashioned plastics. Let’s discuss the carbon footprint and impact of glass.

That glass manufacture is a clean process with low environmental impact, that it remains clean through the subsequent recycling steps and that it doesn’t outgas is nothing more than an easily acceptable myth. Widely believed as truth but it’s just not true. The amount of heat and energy incumbent to manufacturing glass is extremely high, with a gigantic carbon footprint and environmental impact. Glass manufacturing requires extreme temperatures, above 3000 degrees Fahrenheit, and it must be sustained throughout the manufacturing process. Flames exclusively generated using oil and coal; first carbon footfall of glass manufacture. And then very time glass is recycled it must be melted and reformed and our atmosphere takes another hit; a deeper carbon footprint. Every time glass is chemically restructured as an ingredient of other substances, a deeper footprint. Glass is heavy and it’s shipped all over the world, another environmental impact to the atmosphere as petrochemicals are consumed by planes, trains and ships. Another really big footprint. And the solid waste byproducts get into the soil and the water.

The then finally the myth that glass doesn’t outgas is almost true almost because the amount is small, but it’s there. Funny thing about the world we live in is that everything strives to be a part of everything else. All the time. Something touches something and it leaves a trace of itself. Our political leaders should learn this lesson. Glass is no different. 

So that’s glass. Now let’s discuss the impact of modern biodegradable plastics.

Ah! That got your attention. Yes, there’s finally such a thing in the world that’s plastic and it biodegrades, nicely and in a reasonable amount of time. It does take a few years, but not thousands of years like the old-school petrochemical nasty synthetic stuff. It is made using sugarcane and other plant-based materials, compared to glass requires a small fraction of the energy to manufacture, it’s light, easy and inexpensive to ship and its only three times more expensive than glass. Yeah, it costs more, but oh my goodness it is so worth it. 

With respect to the environment, the new bio-plastics are only a little bit better than glass. But a little bit better is still, after all, a little bit better. And there are inescapable, extremely exciting advantages. For starters, after a few years in a proper land fill, it will be broken down naturally and decomposed by the incumbent bacteria in the fill to become starch and other harmless compounds. The “classic recycling”  techniques currently being used with traditional plastics is also an option in that they can be reformed into other bio-plastic products. The exciting part is they biodegrade, but there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. For them to properly biodegrade, they must be recycled appropriately in your bio recycle bin. You can’t just toss them out with your standard trash as these containers need to find their way to a bacteria rich, oxygen rich landfill to end their lives and properly biodegrade. And because this process takes a few years it’s not reasonable to just put them into your personal compost. Also we have to be sure our local governments permits their presence in your recycle bin. Details!

So just to wrap this up,

I am moving selected items of the Luminance line into new bio-plastic airless cylinders. For all the reasons discussed in the blog and one that I think we all have to consider. Plastics are not going away no matter the environmental impact, there is just too much money and power involved. Now, here it is and it’s a large part of my calculus; bio-plastics, while they are not glass, with all the mythology and thousands of years in the world, bio-plastics will only win and replace the petrochemical old fashioned plastics if they are supported. With increased support and demand comes increased research and with increased research comes better and more environmentally friendly bio-plastic

Think about it. And please feel free to share your thoughts with me.

-kim 2019