Living Sustainably

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Archive for July, 2011

Bioplastics – Sustainability without compromise

Even the New Bioplastics Trash Bags Represent Much More than Business as Usual

Are you listening? ‘Bioplastics,’ in a word, now seem to have the potential to become one of the biggest business stories of the 21st century, much in the way conventional plastics has been for the past 60 years. The marketplace for biodegradable plastics is growing rapidly as American and European consumers demand sustainable, ‘green’ alternatives to traditional plastics for many common items, including food service, packaging and everyday plastic trash bags.

Bioplastics are made from renewable resources and native plant starches such as corn, tapioca, wheat and potatoes, as well as cane sugar and soy, unlike conventional plastics that are made from fossil fuels which can be harmful to health and the environment. Though still its infancy, the industry is growing fast and the global market for biodegradable, compostable plastics is enormous. Though not as large as the $2.5 trillion conventional plastics industry, many believe that bioplastics will increasingly rival traditional plastics in the not so distant future. And if past is prologue, bioplastics seems to have a very bright future given the ubiquitous and pervasive nature of plastics themselves. Plastics are used in everything from packaging, clothes we wear, cars we drive as well as in countless other industrial applications, consumer goods and electronics.

The global market for bioplastics is estimated to be approximately 570 million pounds and is forecast to increase to 1.2 billion pounds in 2012, which represents an almost 18% annual growth rate over the next three years, according to BCC Research. Currently, bioplastics represents only 0.1% of the total plastics market. However, some predict that the global market for bioplastics could reach $20 billion by the end of 2020. This is being driven by consumers’ preferences for sustainable plastic solutions that protect the health and the environment, higher oil prices, which make bio-based plastics a better value proposition, and manufacturing technology that has resulted in materials that are performance competitive and 100% recyclable.

Even simple household items such as garbage bags and trash liners stand to be revolutionized and make a big impact to our health and the welfare of our planet. It is estimated that that 500 billion to one trillion bags are made across the world each year, requiring millions of barrels of oil in their production, not to mention colorants and inks that can be toxic to human health and the environment. They are then discarded, with only about 1% being recycled, and are left to pollute our oceans, lakes, rivers, and grass lands, being blow away and becoming non-compostable litter, the equivalent of dumping millions of barrels of oil into the environment each year. Unlike bioplastics, conventional plastics do not biodegrade, and remain in as pollutants indefinitely. A number of companies, such as Trellis Earth Products, have already realized the extent of the problem and have begun producing bioplastic bags and food packaging that is biodegradable.

Trellis is a leader in supplying and manufacturing branded biodegradable food packaging and plastic bags that are made from renewable resources and sold to many restaurants and businesses across the country. Its products range from 30% biomass to 100% biomass and various tiers in between. Trellis’s biodegradable trash liner, which can decompose in both landfill conditions (in the presence of other bioactive matter), has the ability to change the evolution of how trash is treated. Whether trash becomes a fuel source, via methane capture in landfills, or bioplastics are used as a recycling feedstock, or in some cases as compostable nutrients, they can play a major role in the reduction of the use of toxic petrochemicals and their impact on the environment. Trellis’s products offer cost advantages that will allow more and more businesses to switch to bioplastics at the same price as traditional plastics and ‘Go Green for Free.’

About Trellis

Founded in 2006, Trellis is an early established innovator in bioplastics and sustainable food service packing and plastic bags with over 100 SKUs and integrated branding, manufacturing and distribution selling to major retail chains and corporations in the U.S. Trellis products employ a proprietary blend of biomass and conventional polymers for a lower blended average cost of materials. For more information, please visit Trellis website:


Anguilla Solar Upgrade

I finally found an internet connection here in Anguilla (eastern Caribbean). I’m here on the edge of the water enjoying a very nice lunch (with wifi internet) at the Arawak Beach Inn (the food is fantastic). This week I’m upgrading a system I installed in 2008. This system has been operating flawlessly for 3 and a half years, but the client wanted additional lighting and fans, necessitating two more panels (Kyocera 135 watt) and additional battery storage (maintenance free AGM deep cycle). The weather here is nicer than South Carolina. It’s in the 80’s, and the batteries are fully charged by 10am. We now have two 130 watt panels and two 135 watt panels connected to the system. The two original 130’s’s are connected to the original xantrex c35 charge controller, and the two new 135’s are connected to a morningstar ss20. We are adding two outdoor light fixtures (now totaling 4), a wall fan, 5 electric outlets, and lights in the bedroom and bath room. All bulbs are 13w CF. We did wash today, which consumed 6ah (the washer is rated at 200 watts), but at 10am the batteries weren’t hit at all, the load was carried by the solar panels. The client is switching from buying bottled water to a DIY Berkey Filter filtering her rain fed cistern water, and a Energy Star electric fridge to replace her Consul propane unit.


Something fun for the kids!

Collaborating with unique talents from the independent art scene, Modern-twist brings art to even the littlest table. Made from silky food-grade, hand silk-screened silicone, the mats won’t crease or rip. The mats are ideal for travel and mealtime activities. The kid’s placemats feature creative, playful designs that will amuse and inspire little tikes. For parents who live a design-inspired lifestyle, the simple, clean design provides optimal functionality with a minimalist aesthetic. Nurturing the inner artist in every child, the mats are doodle-friendly with the use of washable or dry erase markers—save paper/save trees, just clean off with a damp cloth or rinse. Color again and again.

Easy to clean, these mats offer unlimited fun for the kids, just don’t give them the markers until after they eat!


Off the Grid and On the Cloud

Our friend Nick Rosen, Author and director of off grid books and videos, is working on another project. His previous work on people who live off grid and why they choose to so met with critical acclaim. See Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America.

Had it with The Man? You’ll love this series about 12 off-grid households – managing their own power, water and waste. Its freedom, eco-living, self-reliance.

Off the Grid Crowd-sourcing from Nick Rosen on Vimeo.


Return to Anguilla

A week from now, I’ll have just landed in St. Maarten, and on a boat to Anguilla. I am doing another solar project in the Caribbean, and teaching the folks there how to design and install off grid power systems. The island is fraught with power outages, and the power they have comes from large diesel generators. It’s very expensive to import fuel, and supply can be precarious. The one thing they have plenty off is sunlight, so solar makes a lot of sense there. We last visited Anguilla in 2008, and the solar power system we installed then has worked flawlessly for 3 years, day in and day out. Now it’s time to upgrade the system for more capacity, and teach another group of future installers.


Brazil’s Ménage à Quad

by R.L. David Jolly

It all starts in South America, with the Brazil nut tree, Bertholletia excelsa. The Brazil nut tree grows to heights of 150 feet with a base diameter up to 7 feet. They produce a flower with very stiff and strong petals. Most insects don’t have the strength to open the petals enough to reach the nectar inside the flower and thus are incapable of pollinating them. However the large female orchid bee of the genus Euglossa, is strong enough to lift the petal hood of the flower. She also has a very long tongue that can reach the coiled interior’s rich nectar. In the process, the female orchid bee pollinates the Brazil nut flower.

Male orchid bees are too small to open and pollinate the Brazil nut flowers and they have absolutely no interest in the Brazil nut tree what-so-ever. Their main interest is attracting female bees for the purpose of mating. To accomplish this, the male bee seeks out the Coryanthes vasquezii orchid, where he wallows and covers himself with the orchid scent, kind of like how some men dowse themselves with aftershave or men’s cologne before going out on the hunt. Once covered with the orchid’s fragrant aroma, the male orchid bee searches for a larger female bee. If the orchid scent meets her approval, they mate and she will produce new orchid bees. If it doesn’t meet her approval, he seeks another orchid and repeats the process. Without the scent of this particular orchid, the female bee will not mate with the male.

Once pollinated, the Brazil nut flower grows into a cannonball sized seed pod which contains up to 20 Brazil nuts. When the pods get ripe, they fall to the ground with a tremendous thud. (Image having one them fall from 100+ feet up and hitting you on the head.) The seed pods are extremely hard and do not break open on impact. In fact, they are so hard, that virtual no animal in the South American forests can crack or chew through them. That is except a cat-sized rodent known as an agouti. There were several species of agoutis belonging to the genus Dasyprocta that inhabit the forests where the Brazil nuts grow. The agouti has extremely sharp incisors and very strong jaws, giving them the ability to chew through the hard outer shell of the seed pods, allowing them to dine on the highly nutritional nuts inside.

However, most agoutis cannot eat all of the nuts at one time, so they dig a hole and bury the rest of the opened seed pod in order to save it for another day. Once the seed pod is buried and the soil reaches the nuts inside the opened pod, they germinate and begin to grow new Brazil nut trees and the cycle begins all over again.

This is a very interesting relationship between the Brazil nut tree, the Coryanthes vasquezii orchid, the orchid bee and the agouti. Remove the orchid from the scene and the bees won’t mate and if they don’t mate, the flowers do not get pollinated and produce seed pods. Remove the agouti from the scene and the opened seed pods do not get buried and germinate into new trees, thus greatly reducing the number of new trees to replace the older ones.

read more at Brazil’s Ménage à Quad


The Tree of Life

Is there a more useful plant than Moringa? Possibly, but this one has great potential for reducing malnutrition, enhancing quality of life through medicine, water purification, biofuels, fertilizer, and many other uses.

Moringa is the sole genus in the flowering plant family Moringaceae. The 13 species it contains are from tropical and subtropical climates and range in size from tiny herbs to massive trees. The generic names are derived from the Tamil word murunggai (முருங்கை) or the Malayalam word muringa, both of which refer to M. oleifera.

The most widely known species is Moringa oleifera, a multi-purpose tree native to the foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India and cultivated throughout the tropics. M. stenopetala, an African species, is also widely grown, but to a much lesser extent than M. oleifera.

Moringa oleifera silviculture is currently being promoted as a means to combat poverty and malnutrition. It grows quickly in many types of environments, and much of the plant is edible, including by livestock. The leaves contain all essential amino acids and are rich in protein, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, and minerals. Feeding the high protein leaves to cattle has been shown to increase weight gain by up to 32% and milk production by 43 to 65%. According to Dr. K. Shaine Tyson of Rocky Mountain Biodiesel Consulting, the degreased meal contains 60% protein, 40% more than soybean meal. The defatted meal can also be used to purify water, settling out sediments and undesirable organisms.


Constructed Wetlands

A constructed wetland is an artificial “bog”, designed to purify waste water, and provide habitat for migratory or native critters (we love watching the geese and listening to the frogs). They act as a biofilter and help cool the local microclimate as well.

They are a naturalists dream for a backyard, and can be a valuable source off food and relaxation.


Aquaponics Raffle

We have embarked on a new Indoor/Outdoor Solar Powered Aquaponics Self Sufficiency Survival Food project. Basically, this system raises fish in a tank. The fish fertilize the water, which is pumped to the grow beds. The grow beds break down the ammonia into plant food, and the the bacteria and plant activity cleanses the water that then returns to the fish.

This project not only includes the base fish and vegetable production system, but also optional solar power system, LED grow lights, and hopefully a DIY greenhouse and methane digestion system for hot water and winter heating of the greenhouse. Fish will be fed by a Black Soldier Fly Larvae composter.

The fish will be bluegill and catfish (other varieties are being investigated), and the veggies are picked for nutrition, hardiness, and ease of growing, specializing in water plants in addition to traditional plants.

We are raffling off a basic Aquaponics kit in order to fund our Solar Aquaponics project. The kit includes two grow beds, a 55 gallon flood tank and a 55 gallon fish tank. Every ticket purchase comes with preview access of the project, the in-progress ebook/video set (a $40 value).

Pics on our Facebook page.

Add a $15 Ticket to your cart:

See your purchase, and checkout:


The GOOD 30-Day Challenge: Waste Less

Every year the residents and businesses of Phoenix alone send one million tons of solid waste to Buckeye, Arizona’s, SR85 landfill. That’s about one ton per resident, and it’s enough garbage to fill the city’s pro football stadium from top to bottom seven times over. Outside of Arizona, the average American produces about 4.4 pounds of garbage per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and in Mexico, households create 30 percent more trash than Americans. It all seems insignificant at first—a Starbucks cup here, a sandwich box there—but pretty soon you’re sweating while hauling giant Hefty bags to the curb yet another week in a row. Let’s stop being so trashy, and let’s start this month.