Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Refill Packs, Handkerchiefs and other Green Living Conundrums


(By Wong Ee Lynn, gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com)

Q.Which is better -- purchasing refill packs and refilling existing containers, or buying regular products and recycling their containers?
 Refill systems have the potential to significantly reduce both retail packaging waste and product waste. This favours the selection of high volume products that show significant potential weight savings. Such systems involve the initial sale of products in a dispensing container such as a trigger spray or a pump dispenser, with customers encouraged to purchase a simple container to refill the original dispenser. In their simplest form, refill systems could be a pack where the spray or pump can be transferred from the original container to a new container of the same size and design as the original but with a screw cap in place of the dispense mechanism. Refill packs generally provided value for money for consumers. Observations showed refill packs can provide up to 67% savings for the consumer, although the average found was 26.2% across all categories. (Source: http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Refills%2006%20food%20and%20non%20food%20Report.pdf)

As a general rule, refill packs are still greener than buying soap, coffee, milk and other products in regular containers and recycling the containers later. Based on the life cycle analysis of refill packs, refill packs are lighter and consume less energy and resources to manufacture than regular packaging. In addition, they require less fuel to transport since they are lighter and can be packed more tightly together. Also, many refill packs are recyclable. Refill packs made of plastic laminates are, however, unfortunately non-recyclable and non-biodegradable. Check for the mobius loop at the back of the packaging. If the refill packaging is recyclable, just rinse it out and put it in with your usual plastic items for recycling. Many plastic bottles that you deposit at the recycling centre still end up being landfilled, due to contamination, sorting issues, and other problems. If that is the case, then refill packs would still take up less landfill
space than regular packaging when disposed of. Consumers must continue to put pressure on manufacturers and retailers to produce refill packs that are recyclable or biodegradable.

Q. Which is greener -- tissues or handkerchiefs?
How do disposable tissues stack up against cloth hankies in the environment stakes? Are tissues really worse for the environment even though they are made from renewable resources?
To find out data was collected from a 1995 Duke University research on paper and 2006 Cambridge University research into textiles. The comparison is based on a 1 g tissue versus a 15 g cotton hanky, which we assumed to have a lifespan of 520 uses.

Water footprint
While both paper and cotton production are known for their high water use, the cotton hanky wins hands down using four and half times less water than a virgin tissue. It takes around 2.2 L to produce one paper tissue.
The water footprint of cotton is huge - it takes 165 L of water to grow and manufacture a single hanky, and then it has to be washed. Assuming a four-star washing machine is used, an additional 0.15 L of water is required each time the hanky is washed.
But the hanky still beats tissues because it will be used at least 520 times, which means the embodied water and the washing water comes to 0.47 L each nose-blow.
It takes three times more energy to grow trees and produce pulp to manufacture a virgin fibre tissue compared to a producing a cotton hanky.
To make a tissue takes 0.013 kWh. While it takes 0.78 kWh to produce a cotton hanky - spread over 520 uses this works out to be only 0.04 kWh per use, including washing and drying. Since laundering is the main source of energy use, just switching from tumble drying to line drying will reduce energy use even further, to 0.02 kWh.

Not surprisingly tissues do create a fair amount of waste. Unlike office paper, once a tissue has been used it can't be recycled, so it ends up in landfill. A single virgin fibre tissue creates about 1.3 g of waste, including waste from manufacturing. Manufacturers are reluctant to sell tissues made from recycled paper because they say they can't make them soft enough.
Therefore, tissues are made from virgin fibre for a single use only.
Surprisingly the greatest source of waste from cotton hankies is due to the coal mining waste created to make electricity needed for laundering. One cotton hankie produces 0.05 g of landfill-bound waste for each use, which is 26 times less waste than a tissue.

The Verdict
Hankies are greener than tissues (pardon the pun), that is if they actually get taken out of the sock drawer. To really minimise your nose-blowing impact purchase organic cotton hankies or, if you can find them, buy hemp, which has a 50 per cent lower eco-footprint.
Even better, buy vintage hankies or make them from scrap fabric. To reduce the laundering impact, wash hankies in cold water and line dry. If you really can't bring yourself to give up tissues at least try to find ones made from chlorine-free, post-consumer recycled paper and compost them after use.

(Source: http://www.gmagazine.com.au/features/1046/tissues-vs-handkerchiefs)