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Sustainable is Good

2009 Sustainable is Good Green Products Holiday Gift Guide


Welcome to the 2009 Sustainable is Good Holiday Gift Guide.  Earlier this year I was asked by the folks at Martha Stewart to develop a list of more sustainable green gift ideas for the holiday season.  My list includes items that are interesting, practical and well made.  I believe holiday gifts and the products we buy shouldn’t be disposable products they should bring many years of use and enjoyment.

Browse my gift selections and I encourage you to look for similar products from local and regional producers across the country.  Have a happy and safe holiday season!  Check out the full Guide on Martha Stewart.

Alchemy Goods Recycled Innertube Belt

This stylish belt is the perfect recycled accessory for the hip guy or gal in your life.  Made in Seattle from old inner tubes. $38 by Alchemy Goods

Niagara Conservation Showerhead 1.2 GPM

The Niagara Conservation showerhead saves water, using only 1.2 gallons per minute, and is designed to work with any décor. $17. Watercheck.biz

Misono UN10 Gyutou Knife

The 7″ Misono UX10 Gyutou (Chef) knife is the perfect gift for the cook on your list.  This stellar tool will easily last a lifetime or two, making it a highly sustainable choice.  $143.  Korin.com

Full Circle Herb Hot Cats Catnip Sausage Toy

Hot Cats denim 6″ catnip sausages will drive your kitty wild.  Family-made in Oregon, these cat toys are ready for fun. $5.50.  Full Circle Herb

Taza Guajillo Chili Chocolate Mexicano

Taza Guajillo Chili Chocolate Mexicano, produced in Massachusetts, is a luxurious treat.  Its fiery flavor and the coarse stone grind make this chocolate perfect for a winter night. $4.50.  Taza Chocolate or Whole Foods Market.

Patagonia Wanaka Down Jacket

The new for 2009 Wanaka Jacket combines style, functionality and sustainability quite well.  The shell & lining are made from recycled polyester.  The jacket borrows style elements from vintage Swiss army jackets.  Its down insulation makes it perfect choice for the all-in-one winter jacket.  $350.  Patagonia.

Pangea Organics Canadian Pine with White Sage Bar Soap

Nothing says the holidays like the smell of pine.  Sustainable packaging and all natural ingredients make this Canadian Pine & White Sage soap an ideal stocking stuffer.  $8. Pangea Organics.

Technivorm Moccamaster KB741 Coffee Maker

The Moccamaster KB-741 is the perfect gift for the coffee lover, and breaks the cycle of flimsy appliances that need to be replaced every couple years.  This coffee maker features solid construction and copper heating elements for the perfect temperature.   Made in Holland.  Available in four colors.  $245.  Boyd’s Coffee (their USA distributor).

Individual Icons Ruler Bracelet

Fashioned from rulers manufactured in New York and recrafted into jewelry in Rhode Island, this charming bracelet suits all sorts.  $49.  Individual Icons.

Australian Scent Travel Pack

This airline-approved travel pack from Australian Scent includes some of our favorite goods.  These all natural skin care products are amazing — some of the best we’ve tried.  $39.  Australian Scent.

Maggie’s Organics Stuffed Penguin

This adorable stuffed Penguin is made from excess fabric and stuffed with reclaimed polyester mill scrap by Maggie’s Organics.   Made in North

How to Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

Bringing lunch with you to school or work is a great way to eat better and save money.  While there are many benefits to packing your own lunch there is one major environmental concern: single use disposable packaging generates significant amounts of waste.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) just ran a great short piece on how to green up your child’s school lunch.  CAP estimates each average school-age child who has mostly single serving packaged items in their lunch generates 67 pounds of waste each school year. CAP suggests packaging a zero-waste lunch.

Here’s the basic things to remember:

1) Reuse your beverage container. Use a thermos or a reusable water bottle to carry liquids.

2) Pack a reusable lunch bag. Using the same lunch bag every day creates no waste and is an affordable one-time purchase. You can probably even reuse a bag you already have.

3) Buy in bulk. Buy family-sized packages of cookies, crackers, and chips, rather than individually packaged snacks, and then pack the desired amount each day.

4) Use reusable containers for food. Use Tupperware, or whenever possible wash out old food packaging for reuse. This is great for transporting leftovers.

5) Rise out of old food containers. Reuse old food packaging to avoid throwing it out.

6) Bring your fork from home. Remembering to pack reusable utensils will prevent wasting hundreds of plastic forks, knives, and spoons every year. You can also keep a set of washable cloth napkins on hand to prevent unnecessary use of paper ones.

It’s almost always easier, and cheaper, to replace disposable packaging items with reusable materials. And they’ll save you less trips to the store in the long run, as well as money on things such as plastic and paper bags.

Terra Cycle Turns Kraft Packaging into New Products

Kraft Foods recently announced a new partnership with TerraCycle, an upstart upcycling company that takes packages and materials that are challenging to recycle and turns them into affordable, high quality goods.

The partnership will greatly expand the number of collection sites TerraCycle has available across the country and will help prevent a significant amount of packaging waste from going into landfills.

Kraft will become the first major multi-category corporation to fund the collection of used packaging associated with its products. Several Kraft brands, including Balance bars and South Beach Living bars, Capri Sun beverages, and Chips Ahoy! and Oreo cookies, are now the lead sponsors of TerraCycle Brigades. These nationwide recycling programs make a donation for every piece of packaging a location collects.

“Sustainability is about looking out for future generations. Kraft is proud to partner with TerraCycle, an innovative company who has made it their mission to reduce the impact on landfills and to educate consumers on the importance of recycling,” says Jeff Chahley, Senior Director, Sustainability, Kraft Foods.

“TerraCycle’s model of rewarding ’brigade hosts’ is a novel way of collecting packaging waste that would otherwise have been sent to landfills. It’s so cool to see trash turned into merchandise that’s unlike anything else on the market.”

Mystery Surrounds New Whole Foods Reusable Bag

Whole Foods A Better Bag (photo: www.made-in-china.com)

When I started this story last month, I never expected a standard interview request with a designer to turn into a bureaucratic two-step that took us to China and back.

Austin-based Whole Foods Market officially phased out the use of plastic shopping bags on Earth Day last week.

In December Whole Foods announced their intention to eliminate plastic bags and unveiled their new reusable bag called “A Better Bag.”  Following that announcement we reached out to the bag’s designer to learn more about the design and concept behind this colorful new bag.

The response we received may be an indication of just how important reusable bags are becoming for Whole Foods.

The colorful bags are quickly becoming the primary reusable bag the company sells, and their customers are embracing them thanks to their bright fun design, durability, low price and unique look and feel.

Perhaps an indicator of their popularity is the fact they are even selling on eBay.

A Better Bag was designed internally by Whole Foods staff who work on the company’s branded products.  The bag’s graphic design depicts blues and greens and a fresh cut apple.  Sustainable is Good attempted to obtain information on the bag’s artwork for this story.  However the bag’s designer was unable to answer any questions, citing a strict non-disclosure policy Whole Foods maintains with its employees.

Sustainable is Good contacted the Whole Foods corporate office in March for information on the bag for our story.  Initially we were turned down, being told the company doesn’t speak to “trade publications.”  After some follow up we were then informed a “rare exception” was made at the approval of the director of PR for Whole Foods – the company would participate in our story.

We submitted several questions to the company on the design and concept of the bag and also sought information on consumer reactions.

Then began a back and forth process that in the PR world can only be described as odd.  Weeks passed with no information, then “availability” issues cropped up and more time passed; finally the company’s participation in the story came to an end last week over supply concerns.

In an email a Whole Foods spokeswoman told Sustainable is Good, “We won’t be able to help on this story due to the reasons that I described earlier. As we had discussed, we were making an exception with your website as we know you do great work.  However, since we don’t know when our supply issues will be resolved, our team has opted to not go through with the story.”

Throughout the more than one month process to obtain basic information on the new bag, it was never clear exactly what any of the issues raised had to do with the design and concept of the bag.   It is also not known why the director agreed to participate in the story with these apparently severe supply issues looming.

Following this angle, Sustainable is Good spoke to regional sources who indicated they were unaware of any supply issues affecting the availability of the bags in their regions.

Where is the bag made and what makes it unique?

We were also able to establish where the bags are made and obtain information on what makes these bags unique within the reusable bag world.

The bags are made in the busy city of Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong province.  The city is booming with companies making reusable bags and nearly everything else imaginable for the U.S. market.  We also learned the reusable bag industry in China is riddled with misinformation over environmental claims and there is intense competition over U.S contracts.

Based on publicly available trade information we were able to establish Charrmy Industries Co., Limited appears to be involved in the production of the Whole Foods bags.  In fact, the company’s web site proudly displays images of the bag.

What makes the Whole Foods bag different is the original artwork, design and high quality materials.

Most of the Whole Foods bag is made from 100% post-consumer rPET (plastic bottles) material.  The tag that comes with the bag states 80% of the bag is made from rPET.   rPET material is quickly becoming the choice for high quality reusable bags destined for the U.S. market, because of its post-consumer recycled properties and its durability.

The Whole Foods Better Bag goes a step further by adding an outer layer of Oriented Polypropylene (OPP) film.  This material provides its unique look and texture as well as the ability to print high quality colorful artwork.  OPP is an excellent material for printing – for example the popular book Cradle to Cradle by the MBDC co-founders is made of OPP as are ReProduct greeting cards.

By adding the outer OPP layer Whole Foods was able to take a reusable bag and make it fun and exciting for customers.

Aren’t reusable bags for the greater good?

All of these points are interesting, innovative and exciting.  So why then did Whole Foods agree to participate in the story, and then over a month later back out?  Wouldn’t the company want to share its creative design work and innovative bag with its customers?

The piece that Whole Foods is missing here is consumer interest; people are actually quite concerned with things like this.  People see these fun new bags in the stores, they see the store aggressively pushing them it’s not hard to see how interest is generated. Plus it’s a known fact eco-conscious consumers value design and innovation.

Reusable bags are designed to reduce waste and better the planet for everyone.  With that idea in mind you would think Whole Foods would be open about their new bag design and do anything they could to promote it and encourage others to follow in their footsteps and create their own.

After all if more people embrace and use reusable bags and have access to bags that are fun and fashionable, then it stands to reason an increasingly significant dent can be made in the reduction of plastic bag waste, right?

Is this more about protecting the design of a reusable bag than encouraging more people to use them?  That’s a fair question.

FTC to Hold Forum on Green Packaging

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting a public workshop to examine developments in green packaging claims and the consumer perception of those claims.  The workshop is part of the agency’s regulatory review of the “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims,” commonly known as the Green Guides.

The workshop and the results of the discussion from the event will be of great interest to those following field of green/sustainable packaging.  Since the Green Guides were last revised in 1998 there has been exponential growth in the use of green claims relating to packaging.

The FTC recognizes sellers and marketers frequently use terms addressed in the Green Guides, such as “recyclable, recycled content, biodegradable, degradable, compostable, or refillable,” to claim their packaging is green.  Companies are also now using terms like “sustainable,” and “renewable,” which are not even contained in the Green Guides.

The FTC is the federal regulatory body responsible for oversight of claims companies use to sell products and resulting issues of consumer perception.

The workshop will also examine the increase in third-party certification programs purporting to verify the positive environmental impact of product packaging.  Major verification programs used in packaging currently include FSC and SFI both dealing with paper/wood usage.

The FTC’s Green Guides and Packaging workshop is scheduled for April 30, 2008 in Washington, DC.

Recycline:  Sitting on Mainstream’s Doorstep

image © recycline

BY RIDER THOMPSON

Recycline’s backbone product, the Preserve Toothbrush is being tested at 100 Target Stores and the company doesn’t know how long the super retailer will give them to prove mainstream consumers want their eco-friendly product.  Talk about pressure for the Waltham, MA company founded by Eric Hudson.  Hudson and his company have been making major strides in the last few years and the next step is to break into the mainstream consumer market.  Which puts us back at the product test they are in the middle of at 100 Target stores across the country.  At a time when eco-friendly products are starting to pop up at major retailers like Target and Walmart, the test marketing of the Preserve toothbrush is another indicator that more eco-friendly products are inching closer and closer to the mainstream market.

Recycline products including the Preserve Toothbrush & Razor and now a line of reusable tableware have been popular among eco-conscious consumers for several years.  The full line of Recycline products is available at Whole Foods stores across the country and their products are also carried by Trader Joes, Super Stop & Shop supermarket stores in the northeast, and a host of smaller natural food type stores.  These are big names in the retail business but with the exception of Stop & Shop, are geared towards eco-conscious consumers.  This is why Target is such a big deal.  Recycline is selling its Preserve toothbrush for $2.04 at Target – a deal by any standards – the question is will mainstream consumers bite?  This remains to be seen and Hudson knows it’s a challenge.  He was quoted in a Nov 2006 Inc. magazine piece as saying “We basically believe that maybe 15% of people won’t buy our products.”   So if we take away the 15% of consumers who probably will never buy a recycled toothbrush that leaves Hudson and other similar eco-entrepreneurs 85% of consumers as at least possible buyers.   Not too bad.

Partnership with Stonyfield Farm a model for eco-friendly businesses working together to reduce and reuse waste

The Preserve toothbrush is Recycline’s signature product.  The toothbrush is made from 100% recycled plastic up to 65% of which comes from recycled plastic donated by yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm.  The two companies have a unique partnership that Recycline’s Kathryn Lively described well in a recent interview with Sustainable is Good.  Through a cooperative partnership that began in 2000 with Stonyfield Farm (majority ownership by French company Groupe Danone), Recycline takes their waste (yogurt containers) and makes toothbrushes and the handles of their razors from them. “Our relationship with Stonyfield Farm is a great example of how businesses of the future can work.  Here we have one company (Recycline) that uses another company’s waste (Stonyfield yogurt cups) to make their products (Preserve brand products).   Our partnership with Stonyfield Farm®, is regarded as a significant step towards corporate sustainability with our two companies collaborating to reduce and reuse waste,” says Lively.

The Stonyfield partnership accounts for a significant amount of Recycline’s recycled plastic supply, which Stonyfield is quick to point out, is #5 plastic polypropylene (they state this is more efficient than HDPE #2 or other types of plastic).  A January 2005 article in Waste News reports Stonyfield sends Recycline two to three thousand pounds of #5 plastic each month in fact in early 2005 they passed the 1 million containers recycled mark (it takes about 2 containers to make 1 toothbrush). There is no question the Stonyfield partnership has been a tremendous boon for Recycline and also an effective way for the yogurt maker to dispose of excess plastic and containers.

photo © www.sustainableisgood.com

Where does Recycline get the rest of his recycled plastic from?  According to an Oct 2005 Forbes article, the rest of Recycline’s recycled plastic comes from old grocery store carts, toys and wherever else Hudson can find a good deal on the right type of plastic.  Waste News reports this plastic along with all the Stonyfield containers are then sent to a plastics processor who grinds it up and combines it with other pre-consumer recycled polypropylene.  The end result are pellets which are then used by Recycline to make their products. Hudson told Waste News the compounding process to make the pellets involves heating the plastic up to about 400°F, enough to kill any potential bacteria. The plastic is again heated during the injection molding process used to convert the pellets into consumer products, he said.

More than just recycled plastic – key to company’s success

There is more to Recycline’s success than just the fact it recycles plastic.  The company also innovates with plastic both in design and production practices.  A March 12, 2007 release for an upcoming conference on plastics & sustainability at Umass Lowell, sheds some light into the production innovations the company made.  Recycline, “tapped UMass Lowell’s Plastics Engineering faculty (regarded as the best in the country in this area) for technical guidance and engineering innovation when the company wanted to manufacture plastic products in an eco-friendly way,” says the Business Wire release.

Producing their products wasn’t something that happened overnight for Recycline, eco-friendly production methods require time and innovation.  Another area the company spends a great deal of time on is product design and understanding what its consumer base wants.  For example Recyline’s Preserve razor was designed over a period of two years with graduates of MIT, Stanford and RISD schools of design & engineering working on the project. They are also regular participants in design forums with area colleges an universities like Babson College.  The design elements of their products are clearly evident when you try using one of them.  We actively use both the Preserve toothbrush and the Triple Razor.  At first glance both products appear very simple yet on closer inspection and in use they are well thought out and highly functional.  Even the Preserve toothbrush’s packaging is functional made from recycled wood-based plastic it doubles as case for travel.

Consumers should think about “how was it made, it is reusable, how will you dispose of it when the product is no longer usable?”

Buying green products and not breaking the bank is all about using your head and not consuming more than you need says Lively.  She stressed the importance of consumers envisioning the entire life-cycle of products they buy.  This vision is something Recycline takes seriously and their products show it.  You may take a look at the Preserve toothbrush and wonder why it doesn’t have all the fancy fake rubber trim many of the conventional models have on them – the answer is because adding things like that makes the toothbrush un-recyclable. Part of thinking about the life-cycle of a product includes these considerations.   Lively says consumers should ask themselves before buying a product, “how was it made, it is reusable, how will you dispose of it when the product is no longer usable?”

photo © www.sustainableisgood.com

Disposal is something Recycline also cares about.  The company encourages customers to send back their used Preserve Toothbrushes and now Razor handles for recycling.  In order to facilitate this, the company offers pre-paid postage mailers and gives consumers the ability to print out a mailing label form their website.  Recycline will take the items and turn them into plastic based lumber.   Of course consumers can also recycle these items within their communities.

So as Recycline continues to thrive among a growing group of eco-conscious consumers, they eagerly await the results of their sales at the 100 Target stores.  Meanwhile, they continue innovate and come up with new products to offer their consumers.  Lively said the company receives feedback from their customers all over the world.  They are coming out with a cutting board this spring and according to Lively the fall should be quite exciting. “I can’t give away any secrets but I assure you we have a few tricks up our sleeve set for release in the Fall.  Folks can sign up for our e-newsletter on our website so they can stay caught up with new Preserve products.” – We will stay tuned

SIRA Technologies Food Sentinel System Thermal Barcode for Packaging

California -based SIRA Technologies is working with researchers from the University of Rhode Island Chemistry Department on a revolutionary packaging barcode technology which can alert consumers and retailers whether a product has been exposed to adverse conditions – affecting its safety.

If you have ever wondered whether the milk in your grocer’s refrigerator might have gone bad or if you left the pre-packaged meats on your kitchen counter too long, then a partnership between two University of Rhode Island chemistry professors and a food safety company will soon put you at ease.

Barcodes created by SIRA Technologies for use on refrigerated food products will incorporate an ink that will be rendered nearly invisible when conditions indicative of contamination exist, the ink will turn red and the barcode will be rendered incapable of transmitting data when scanned.

“We’ve all heard about people who have been sickened by contaminated food in recent years,” said Brett Lucht, who, along with colleague William Euler at the University of Rhode Island, developed the polymer that is added to the barcode ink to make it change color.

“Our partnership with SIRA Technologies is creating a smart packaging system that will prevent thousands of people from getting ill.”

The URI researchers began studying thermochromic pigments – those that change color at certain temperatures — a decade ago when a cookware company sought a polymer that could be added to its products to make them change color when they were too hot to touch.

The heat-sensitive material they developed turned from red to yellow at 180 degrees Fahrenheit (the temperature at which a person would suffer a burn) and back to red when it cooled. That polymer generated interest from more than 100 companies that sought to incorporate it into dozens of different materials, from specialty fabrics to health care products. None of the companies, however, were willing to incur the added costs of refining the polymer for their specific uses.

But when Lucht and Euler modified their discovery into an irreversible polymer – one that does not revert to its original color after changing – SIRA Technologies took notice.

Bob Goldsmith, chief executive officer of the company, said that SIRA had developed a barcode that could sequester pathogens from animal blood and quantify the colony of pathogens with colored organic beads until the color emerges to activate the barcode and report the contamination.

The company’s subsequent search for an irreversible thermochromic ink led them to partner with URI in what is now trademarked and patented as The Food Sentinel System.

According to Lucht, other thermochromic indicators are commercially available, but they are expensive and they lack the archival feature required by regulatory agencies to track and trace products on a global scale. They also rely on human examination to judge whether the product has been rendered unsafe for consumption.

The cost of the SIRA Technologies barcode with the URI polymer will be less than four cents each.

The new packaging barcode technology has the potential to improving supply chains and in turn reducing wasted product and packaging.

Scotts and Terra Cycle Settle Lawsuit

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and TerraCycle have reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by Scotts.

Scott’s spokeswoman Su Lok contacted Sustainable is Good with the news of the settlement late Friday.  Interestingly there has been no communication on the settlement from TerraCycle who has been quite vocal and very actively engaged with the media throughout the suit.

According to Lok, “TerraCycle has agreed that it no longer will make advertising claims of product superiority to Miracle-Gro products to ensure accuracy in its advertising. More specifically, TerraCycle has agreed that it will not claim that its products are better than, or more effective than, or as good as Miracle-Gro products. In addition, TerraCycle may not claim that any independent tests or university studies were conducted to support any such claims.”

“TerraCycle has also agreed to change its packaging so it will not use a green and yellow color combination, for which Miracle-Gro owns a trademark registration. This change will be made to avoid any possible confusion with Miracle-Gro’s trade dress,” Said Lok.

Interestingly Lok also said, “The court order and the settlement agreement will be posted on TerraCycle’s www.suedbyscotts.com Web page. TerraCycle also agreed to phase out this site after three months.”

Target Stores New Mirel Bioplastic Gift Card

Target stores have introduced a new gift card made from a bioplastic called Mirel.  The gift card is biodegradable and made from natural sources.

The new biobased gift cards are available at 129 Target stores across the country.

Mirel is a new family of biobased plastics made from corn that provides an alternative to traditional, petroleum-based plastics. Unlike conventional plastics, Mirel biodegrades in a variety of environments including soil, home compost, wetlands, rivers and oceans

The biobased plastic is made by Telles, a company formed between Cambridge Massachusetts, Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).  Telles is a 50-50 joint venture between the two companies.

Telles is currently working with more than 50 prospects on more than 70 applications, including consumer products, packaging, single-use disposables, and products used in agriculture and erosion control.

A Product Paper Towel Manufacturers Don’t Want You to Know About

A Product Paper Towel Manufacturers Don’t Want You to Know About

I was out looking for interesting products as I often do and I happened upon an item at Sam’s Club that made me do a double take.  Ecolab Proforce Reusable Foodservice Towels was the item that stopped me mid aisle.  The first thought that came to my mind was oh boy I bet this is something paper towel manufacturers are trying to keep off mainstream store shelves.

The reusable foodservice towels as they are called were in the cleaning products aisle at Sam’s Club in the industrial cleaning section.  Interestingly they were not the area with the products aimed at consumers.  These towels come 25 in a pack for $6.99 are reusable and machine washable.  They are made of non-woven cotton.

Can you imagine if these caught on?  What am impact they would have on reducing waste and putting a dent in the disposable paper products market.  Wow.  I was excited for a couple reasons.  First off the price.  Secondly they actually look and feel like a heavy duty paper towel.

Judging by the way many consumers in this country react to “greener” products I thought these actually looked like something people wouldn’t immediately label as “green” and therefore steer clean of.  These towels look like highly functional heavy duty paper towels.  I think they could work mainstream.

Are they the ideal option?  No.  But lets face it disposable paper products are an environmental disaster.  If by some amazing series of events these actually started to gain market share in the U.S. and were sold as a mainstream product,  the impact they would have would be amazing.