Emerging from Hibernation 

March has been a bit of a write off for me in terms of trying out new alternatives and experiments. A particularly nasty head cold wiped me out for a week and then back problems (from coughing too much) put paid to getting out and about. Washing, cleaning, shopping and cooking all pretty much came to a halt. Apart from being a bit stiff, I’m more or less back to normal and April already has been more fruitful than most of March.

While being out of action, I spent much of the time with my what pack and wrapped up in my warm fleecy dressing gown since it was the easiest thing to put on. For someone who just can’t bear woollen clothes,  (not even the lovely merino Icebreaker clothes) fleeces have been a real godsend. Warm, cosy and made from recycled plastic bottles. How good is that?

Then this year I started hearing about another side to the story. Like everything you need to look at the whole picture. Every single time a fleece is washed plastic fibres get into our waterways. (Acrylics and other polymers are also to blame but these are not generally marketed as Eco fabrics so I’m leaving them out of this discussion!)  The other consideration is once the fleece is thrown out what happens? Well Patagonia offers to collect and recycle all their clothes but when you read about the issues they encountered it’s pretty obvious that it’s a difficult process because all the different components have to be separated.  So for most products the simple answer is no, your Polar fleece will not be recycled.

Will I give up my fleeces and make do with cotton which isn’t very warm? I’ve got no answers to this one at the moment – except that I won’t buy any fleeces this year and will limit wearing -or washing at least- of the ones I do own.

Any microfibre cloth has the same problem. I replaced them with cotton cloths in January and I love the feel of the cotton – microfibres  always caught on my hands – and they get less smelly than the synthetic fibres.

Something else that came up in conversations in March was  biodegradable plastic. Last year there was a bit of a scandal in the newspaper about non recyclable coffee cups because of the plastic lining  (this also reminds me to be vigilant in sorting my recycling!).  Separate to this, some cafes were proudly touting their cups as biodegradable. I just thought the plastic broke down and converted to carbon naturally in the landfill. It turns out that it’s not that simple.  Bio (0r photo or oxy) degradable plastic is still a petrochemical but it’s been engineered to break down more quickly – but more quickly can still mean years. And some need high temperatures to break down or give off noxious toxins as they break down.

On the other hand, compostable materials do break down in a garden compost into harmless nothingness pretty quickly. Our local petrol stations, Z, proudly advertise their compostable coffee cups, lined with bioplastic. So what’s bioplastic? Well, it’s made from plants – often corn starch, that’s been engineered into long polymers. Cellophane is probably the best known of these.  So, why not use these all the time?  Like biofuel, bioplastics have also raised much debate about growing crops to make plastic rather than feed people and the use of GM crops. Lastly, they can’t be recycled! They look much like any other plastic so if there’s no label or you don’t check and you chuck it in with other recycling, the whole recycling can be compromised.

Like everything, nothing is ever black and white – when I see an eco label these days, I’ve started to question what the ‘eco’ relates to.  Is it really a better option or does hit the mark in one area but miss somewhere else? It’s really a repetition of the old adage – make sure to read the small print.

Here’s some more food for thought. Next post will be back to my own adventures!

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