Italy Bans Plastic Bags

Okay it’s the 11 March but I’ve only just discovered this. Italy banned non-biodegradable, single-use plastic bags on 1 January 2011.

“Sustainability is made of little changes to our lifestyle that don’t cost us anything and can save the planet,” said Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italian Environmental Minister.

While the bags do cost more to make, so far that hasn’t been passed onto consumers (as far as I know) and research has shown that Italians have always disliked the thin single-use bags and were ready for stronger multi-use ones.

Yay Italy I say.

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The Big Plastic Bag Debate

These days, stepping out with a plastic bag carries as much of a stigma as admitting that you kick kittens for pleasure or actively engage in the torture of insects for fun. Plastic is rapidly becoming the swear word of our green generation, and more and more manufacturers are becoming aware that they are no longer able to rely on this expensive and environmentally-harmful way of packaging goods and promoting their brands.

Despite the huge awareness about the dangers of using plastic bags for groceries and other uses, a study by National Geographic has revealed the following facts about the plastic bag trade, showing:
• To date the only large city to ban plastic bags is San Francisco
• Only Washington DC has elected to tax shoppers that receive plastic bags
• No state has banned plastic bags
• No state has taxed plastic bags.

So it seems that not much changes when it comes to reducing the manufacture and use of the commodity, despite the huge amount of publicity which the use of plastics for bags has generated over recent months.

Why are people so slow to ditch plastic in favour of other materials?
Plastic bags came in to use a quarter of a century ago, and have been immensely popular ever since. Sturdy, cheap to produce and durable, they are the bag of choice for grocery stores and the convenience market. Easy to carry and easy to store, they tend to be more practical than their paper counterparts, regardless of the environmental risks associated with their use.

Plastic bags

Why are plastic bags so awful?
Plastic bags have few redeeming features when it comes to the environment. They are not biodegradable, meaning that any which are discarded end up in landfill clogging up the eco system. They block drains, drift in the sea and get in to the stomachs of creatures such as turtles, killing them. The true cost of plastic bags on the environment is staggering. Data released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 on US plastic bag, sack, and wrap consumption shows that somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Of those, millions end up in the litter stream outside of landfills.

A spokesperson for the American Plastics Council has stated that the US is embarking upon a crusade against the use of plastic bags, even if this crusade isn‘t reflected by laws around their use: “We feel it is important to understand that plastic grocery bags are some of the most reused items around the house. Many, many bags are reused as book and lunch bags as kids head off to school, as trash can liners, and to pickup Fido’s droppings off the lawn.”

Once plastic bags are put in to the environment, it takes months to hundreds of years for them to break down. As they decompose, toxic chemicals seep into soils, lakes, rivers, and the oceans. Despite all the evidence against the use of plastic bags, the Society of the Plastics Industry based in Washington DC, states that they are still the right choice for consumers. Compared to paper grocery bags, plastic grocery bags consume forty percent less energy, generate eighty percent less solid waste, produce seventy percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to ninety-four percent fewer waterborne wastes. While a plastic bag costs around one cent to produce, a paper equivalent costs around four.

Regardless of the arguments for and against the use of these items, there is no question but that using a cotton equivalent which can be used again and again will be less harmful to the environment than using plastic bags that are discarded after one use.

Soapnuts – The Way Forward For Green Cleaning

Cleaning may not be the most popular activity which we can do at home, but it’s a fact of life and can’t be avoided. Take a wander through any local superstore and it’s obvious that housework is big business. Every aisle in the store is crammed full of cleaning products promising to make your surfaces shiny, take out the work involved with getting things looking sparkly again, and reducing the time and effort spent indoors scrubbing sinks and bathrooms to get the restored to their former glory.

The issue with cleaning from a green perspective is that, the tougher a product is on grease, limescale or general dirt, the more likely it is to be packed with harmful chemicals which have a detrimental effect on the environment. More and more people are shying away from using conventional cleaning products such as bleach, understanding that they carry an associated tax upon the environment.

Soapnuts

Enter a great product for cleaning – soapnuts. These natural, environmentally friendly and economical little nuts can be used for a myriad different cleaning tasks, and are wholly natural. Made from the dried fruit of Rittha tree (found in India and the lower forests of Nepal), the nuts are used for everything from washing clothes, making shampoo, and the creation of a number of cleaning products including detergent.

Soapnuts work because the shell of the nut contains saponin, which is released when the nut comes in to contact with water. They are already used extensively in a number of areas as a primary cleaning agent, and the trend is now extending to Western areas as people realise the benefits of these all-purpose natural cleaning superstars.

Soapnuts can be used for the following cleaning tasks:
• Laundry: Soapnuts can be used in the washing machine – just ass a handful to yoru wash in a sock, and let them do the job of your usual detergent (check out our review of soapnuts here)

• Liquid Soap: Boil up some soapnuts and use the water as a conventional detergent

• Pet shampoo: Wash your pets with a mild solution of soapnut liquid to prevent parasites and keep them clean

• Household cleaning: use for window cleaning, bathrooms and kitchens – a soapnut solution can be used as a replacement for expensive and harmful bleaches and limescale removers

• Washing the car: Add some nuts to a bucket of warm water, and you’re ready to go

• Brightening jewellery: Soak items in the soapnut water solution and rub dry to a high sparkle

• Insect repellant: Use soapnut solution to repel insects, and protect plants and bushes from insects by spraying them with a weak soapnut solution.

As a completely renewable and biodegradable product, soapnuts can be composted once they have reached the end of their life in your cleaning cupboard. They are allergy-free, and great for cleaning around babies and small children, and for people with sensitive skin.

Just 1kg of soapnuts can be used for up to 100 loads of laundry, saving around fifty percent from your regular laundry bill. Using these innovative little nuts supports people growing them in regions who depend upon the income to survive, meaning that you have no real excuse for not letting these little miracles in to your home! You can purchase soapnuts for around £7.00 ($14.00) in most home and garden retail outlets. Find out more, here.

We Are What We Do – Something To Inspire Us All

Every now and then, we come across an organization or product that really inspires us. One such organization is the simple, engaging and environmentally-friendly We are what we do. Rather aptly titled, the UK-based charity describes itself as ‘a global movement that inspires people to use their everyday behaviour to affect big environmental and social issues.’ It’s a pretty ambitious aim, but when you check out their credentials, they certainly pack a punch.

Remember the wonderful bag, designed by Anya Hindmarch, with the strapline ‘I’m NOT a plastic bag.’? A limited edition run, the bag became synonymous with the move away from plastic bags, and towards an altogether more sustainable way to carry groceries and other shopping. And the idea for the bag? It came from this great little charity that seems to be brimming with good green ideas.

I am not a plastic bag

Simple actions
If you check out the We are what we do website, you’ll find ideas for 132 actions that you can do right now, to help make life a little bit better for everyone. From saving energy to recycling, donating money to improving the area that you live in, there’s something for everyone. The website includes a live counter, which allows you to ‘report’ when you’ve completed an action – and with almost 5 million actions taken by site visitors, they’re definitely on to something! Examples of individual actions include:

#094 Make coffee for someone busier than you
#025 Use a mug, not a plastic cup
#101 Make someone smile
#013 Recycle your mobile phone
And my personal favorite…..#123 Don’t start a war.

The site demonstrates that small, simple actions have the power to change lives and improve our planet.

From humble beginnings
Founded by David Robinson, a community worker, and Eugenie Harvey, a communications and marketing specialist, the charity has attracted creative thinkers from business, government and the voluntary sector with the aim of finding new and innovative ways to change society for the better. The charity has published two books – including their bestselling Change the world for a fiver which included ideas contributed by people around the world which would make the world a better place. This was closely followed by Change the world 9–5 which focused on encouraging positive behaviour change in the workplace.

The organization is also committed to inspiring young people, and now runs a Young Speakers Program, training young volunteers to give talks and run assemblies in schools across the UK, which encourage their peers to take action on the issues that matter most to them. Their latest campaign, ‘Teach your granny to text’, is designed to encourage intergenerational bonding – helping young and old people to spend time together and learn from each other. So, there’s no shortage of great ideas, and site visitors are invited to contribute their own ideas too. So, if you’ve got a wonderful idea for improving life as we know it, why not email info@wearewhatwedo.org …if anyone can make it happen, they can!

The Eco Gift Guide

The weather has turned colder, the nights are drawing in, and many people are turning to thoughts of Christmas and Thanksgiving, and buying gifts for friends and family. As soon as the TV adverts commercials start to feature Santa, you know it’s time to write your Christmas list and work out what you are going to buy for people to open on the big day.

A great way of helping the environment and supporting the people around you to do the same is to buy green gifts for everyone. This helps to highlight awareness of the environment, and also makes sure you can buy ethical products which bring added value to the people who sell them, as well as supporting your friends and family to be environmentally friendly.

The good thing about buying in this way is, that people are cottoning on to the huge market out there for green gifts, and this means there is a huge range of beautiful products out there that will suit your budget and needs without compromising on quality or the pleasure your recipients will get from your gift.

Choosing the right green gifts for those you care about
There are a huge number of green traders available to browse online. Start with Miki, a cool and green site designed to help you find the latest organic, recycled or innovative eco gifts. Your next port of call could be Good Green Gifts which features some beautiful gifts including recycled glass products, and a range of lovely items ordered by which room in the house they are designed for.

If there is someone you know who is a gadget enthusiast, look no further than www.gadgets.co.uk/category/green-gifts, which features every imaginable kind of green gadget from solar chargers right through to power meters. If you are looking for something a little unique, why not head over to Project Concern, where you can purchase a gift of life – supporting people to live well, and be healthy, through green sponsorship and support.

Other gift ideas include supporting people and the environment by sponsoring a family in a third-world country, adopting an endangered animal or simply donating to great causes on behalf of your friends and family.

The best things come in green packaging
There are a number of ways you can counter the environmental impact of the festive season when it comes to wrapping your gifts. Try using recycled paper to wrap your gifts, with some organic ribbon for an original and visually-appealing twist on a traditional gift wrap. Instead of using cards which have been made from unsustainable sources, check out the recycled options available, or consider donating to your favorite green charity instead of sending out expensive, and environmentally-harmful, options.

When all this is done, you can feel proud of your contribution to the environment without letting your friends and family down – a thought that will make you feel smug as you head off to recycle your Christmas cards!

Wood Watches Plant A Tree For Every One Sold

Not I’m a big fan of wooden things – not as much as an ex-girlfriend who want a wooden microwave when we moved in together – but as soon as I saw theses watched from WeWOOD I wanted one.

Originally from Florence, Italy, WeWOOD uses Miyota movements in its wooden watches which are “completely absent of artificial and toxic materials”.

And its partnered with American Forests to plant a tree for every watch it sells.

Each watch, available for men and women, costs $119. And I want one.

WeWOOD

Spotted via: Springwise.

Nigel’s Eco Store Buys Design Company EcoCentric

Bit of environmentally friendly shopping news for you. UK-based eco-friendly online shop, Nigel’s Eco Store, has acquired design company EcoCentric.

EcoCentric leans towards sustainable interior design, using recycled or reusable materials with as low a carbon footprint as possible and five-year-old Nigel’s Eco Store has added it to its portfolio.

Owner Nigel Berman said: “The future for products is green. Our aim has always been to help the consumer make environmentally sound choices. With two websites we can really help spread the message and become a one stop shop for eco homewares, interiors and gifts.

“Being sustainable runs up and down the entire supply chain . We want to be an inspiration to other businesses that sustainability works at all levels with no loss of profit.

“We will continue to grow. The future is very exciting.”