Got questions? Ask the Green Geek.

Green Geek logoWondering if plastic or cardboard provides the more environmentally friendly drink container? Or ways you can cut down on your overall use of plastic? 

Ask the Green Geek.

Pima County FYI has a monthly column featuring questions and answers on all things green. Our own Green Geek gets assistance on answering your questions from the sustainability experts in Pima County's Office of Sustainability and Conservation. Send your questions to fyinewsletter@pima.gov. And look for the column the second Friday of each month.

Hi, Green Geek,

I'm wondering which is more environmentally friendly - plastic drink containers or waxed cardboard? My favorite juice is in a plastic bottle, which I recycle, but I feel that the cardboard ones will break down more readily. Which is better? 

Thanks,

Carolyn

 

Hi, Carolyn,

Your question touches on a longstanding topic - plastic vs. carton. I could write a whole dissertation on this, but thankfully there are people who have done environmental lifecycle assessments (LCA) to address this very issue! According to these LCAs, cardboard is the more environmentally friendly option because of a higher rate of reusability. 

I would like to point out a couple of things about these two forms of packaging, just so you can spread this knowledge to others who may have the same question!

Let’s talk about these ‘waxed’ cardboard juice containers first. Believe it or not, these juice boxes do not have any wax at all! If you use the high-tech wax-testing technique of using your nails to try and scrape off the wax, you’ll discover there is none! Most packaging is in fact glossed recyclable paperboard, coated with polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Due to this mixed-material, there are some recycling programs that do not accept such containers because the plastic cannot be cleanly separated from the paperboard. Thankfully, the City of Tucson’s recycling program does accept these cartons!

As for plastic, one quick Google search will tell you all the reasons why to avoid it. In fact, my other article for this month answers your other question about various ways to reduce plastic in the household! With regards to your plastic juice containers specifically, be sure it is an all-PET plastic that our recycling program accepts. For us, only #1 and #2 plastics are recyclable. You can learn more about the city's recycling webpage!

Thanks for your efforts and using your inquisitive mind to help protect our planet! 

Green Geek

Avoid idling near schoolchildren. Turn off your engine while waiting to pick up your child after school. Many anti-idling programs focus on schools so many may have resources available, such as a comfortable waiting location for caregivers.

Instead of using drive-thru windows, park your vehicle and walk into coffee shops, restaurants, banks and pharmacies.

 If you’re waiting for someone in a parking lot in warm weather, park in the shade if available and open the windows to catch a cross breeze.

Reduce windshield defrost time in the winter months by securing a sunshade or towels on the outside of the windshield overnight.

Old habits can be hard to break. Place a decal or sticker on the edge of your windshield to remind yourself to not idle when you don’t need to.

 If you’re looking to purchase a vehicle, opt for one that is hybrid or has stop-start technology. Both automatically turn off the engine when they are not moving. Fully electric vehicles are another great option, since they produce no tailpipe emissions. 

If idling is necessary, try to keep it to no more than 5 minutes at a time.
Green Geek

Shopper with reusable bag

Hi, Green Geek,

I also have a suggestion for you. Please do an article about how to cut down on plastic use overall!

 

Carolyn

 

Carolyn,

This is a noble step toward being a green steward - recognizing and replacing the plastic products in your home! The most visible and common places you’ll find plastic are in our food packaging and personal care products packaging. Other places include inside personal care products (i.e. synthetic polymers), synthetic fabrics, metal cans (often lined with plastic), and even chewing gum! 

Here’s what you can do to cut down on the plastic around you:
  • Use reusable shopping bags when grocery shopping. If you happen to forget one trip, proudly say “Paper please!” Note: During the initial stages of the pandemic, many grocers would not allow you to bring in your own reusable bags. Many will now, particularly if you bag your own groceries.
  • Instead of single-use food storage bags, opt for glass, metal, or silicone bags. 
  • Replace your plastic cutting board with one that is bamboo. 
  • Avoid disposable utensils all-together! 
  • Instead of soaps and shampoos in plastic bottles, look for ones in glass or better yet bars
  • Use dryer balls instead of fabric softeners or dryer sheets
  • Scrub yourself (and your dishes) clean with a natural sponge or loofah instead of the plastic sponge/scrubber
  • If you have kiddos, find bamboo bowls and utensils to replace their plastic ware
  • Instead of buying everyday household cleaners, make your own. Make sure the ingredients themselves don’t come in plastic containers! You can read one of my previous articles on how to use vinegar as a cleaning agent.  

If you’re looking for some motivation to get you started on this journey of reducing the plastic in your home, check out this website from plastic-free warrior Beth Terry. She has a great book called Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and You Can, Too. On her website, she also has a great comprehensive list of 100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life.

Green Geek
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