Uh oh – an item for landfill?

Filed in Blog by on September 4, 2008 8 Comments
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a zero waste gift in a paper bag?
I’m sure many of you will not have slept last night with the excitement of what Little Miss Green bought home with her yesterday after her day out.

I reminded her before she went to think about packaging, but hey she’s only seven; I wasn’t expecting miracles. Especially as many adults don’t know what can be recycled and what can only, at this stage, be put into landfill.

So, Little Miss Green, we all want to know: What’s in the bag?

She came home with the following:

  • A small bar of soap in an organza bag with a card about the company
  • 1 fluffy chick to go with her collection of ducks and chicks and small animals
  • a rubber

The chick and rubber were not packaged at all and everything came in a paper bag.

zero waste gifts?

Oh, but wait – what’s this?

Inside the organza bag, the soap is wrapped in cellophane. 🙁

We’ve thought long and hard about this and spent the evening trawling the internet for how to deal with it.

What I discovered was that cellophane was invented in 1908 by Jacques E. Brandenberger, a Swiss textiles engineer. He originally developed cellophane to try and make tablecloths waterproof and thus resistant to spills.

Unlike the man-made polymers in plastics, which are largely derived from petroleum, cellophane is a natural polymer made from cellulose, a component of plants and trees. Cellophane is not made from rainforest trees, but rather from trees farmed and harvested specifically for cellophane production.

It has wide use for food packaging and wrapping items like soap, flowers and gift baskets.

Now, according to Wikipedia, cellophane is 100% biodegradable. But my question is HOW?

cellophane, can it be recycledMost things biodegrade eventually. I fear that we see the word biodegrade and we don’t actually know what it means or what conditions are needed for products to break down.

Can I put the cellophane in our compost heap or would it require different conditions to biodegrade fully?

If my research is correct, modern cellophane is made from Polypro (PP) and this can be recycled at GHS, but it’s only a tiny piece so I need to call them later to find out if they would accept it along with a batch of yogurt pots.

According to one manufacturing company, cellulose is made by digesting wood and cotton pulps in a series of chemical baths that remove impurities and break the long fiber chains in this raw material. Regenerated as a clear, shiny film, with plasticizing chemicals added for flexibility, cellophane is still comprised largely of crystalline cellulose molecules. This means that it can be broken down by micro-organisms in the soil just as leaves and plants are.

Hmmmmm, so maybe a tiny piece could be buried in the garden then – our own mini landfill in the back garden.

If not, Mr Green and I have decided to take radical action. We’re going to start to do ‘return to sender’ with packaging. Just as we send back our junk mail, we’re going to start doing the same to manufacturers with the packaging. We need to get the message out there somehow that clearer recycling labelling is called for.

I’m getting fed up seeing ‘The bag is recyclable’ written on items but with no instructions about the material or HOW or WHERE to recycle things. In these instances, I don’t buy the product. It’s like telling me ‘this bag contains food’ – but is it an apple or a bar of chocolate? It’s not much good if I get it home and find it’s a bar of chocolate if I’m on a diet, is it?

Well the same goes for our bin. She is on a strict diet this week and we’re doing everything we can to help her stick to it. We’ve got to day four and put a lot of hard work into making this a success and I am not going to fail now because one company will not tell me what I have bought or how to dispose of it!

Labelling laws are lax as it is, but it’s time for more corporate social responsibility and better labelling to help consumers make empowered choices don’t you think?

This ties in perfectly with Tracey’s call for armchair activism, so why not join in and let us know how you get on?

What have you bought recently that has left you wondering about the packaging?


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (8)

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  1. Kris says:

    I think comment and return is a very sensible option as it is as you say an activist motion as well as dealing with the waste of goods with no clear destination.

    I suspect it’s the sort of thing I’d probably hang onto as a potential art material – but that very habit is now a bit beyond potential and into the ‘more clutter’ realm!

  2. LOL – times like this call for creative moments and I love it. Keep up the fantastic work. You’re going great guns. Sorry I’ve not been around. The lurgy has finally hit, but I’ll be back tomorrow for a quick catch up….lots of love Mrs A x

  3. Hi Mrs Green,

    Action talks louder than words. My opinion is full recycling needs to be applied and only items which are actively, or passively, collected having recyling information on them.

    All we can do at present is to warn others of this false recycling and avoid such products. “Return to Sender” is also a good idea.

  4. cory says:

    I apologize for my possible ignorance, but can you explain to your American readers what a “rubber” is? It looks like what I would expect it to be, but then I’m confused as to why Little Miss Green would have one…

  5. Di Hickman says:

    “Fake plastic fish” blogger does the send and return thing. She includes a letter telling them about her environmental concerns and why she is returning the packaging. I think it’s a great idea.
    Or maybe it’s an experiment waiting to happen? Set aside a ‘bin’ as a mini landfill and see how ‘biodegradable’ celophane really is. I have to say its the first I have heard of cellophane being biodegradable!

  6. soly says:

    a rubber is an eraser

  7. Hi,
    I think from similar experiences and experiments it’s unlikely that will break down anytime within the next couple of years, but I guess you could always try – I haven’t tried hot composting plastics that are alledgedly biodegradable – maybe that works better? With the piece of cellophane that you have here though I would soak off the sticker and use it to make a window in the front of a homemade birthday card so that a picture on the inside shows through.
    Like the idea of making the company who produced it aware of the issues too though.
    Keep up all your great work – am thoroughly enjoying reading your posts,

  8. Mrs Green says:

    Well Melissa and Kris, I’m now inspired to use the cellophane for card making. I’m not especially good at them and always admire lovely handmade cards, but I will have a go. Perhaps a letter to the manufacturer is in order too, just to let them know that we have thought about this issue.

    Although I could set up an experiment to see if it biodegrades I guess, Di. Hmmmmmm; which to do?

    Well Little Miss Green seems to think she would like to collect the entire range of soap, so perhaps I’ll get to try all solutions!

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