Let’s examine the Carbon Cycle
The Carbon Cycle is a complex series of processes through which all of the carbon atoms in existence rotate. It is a closed system that naturally recycles, with a fixed amount of carbon that must be somewhere in the world at all times.
The process begins with plants, which absorb carbon from the air through the process of photosynthesis. The carbon then moves from plants to the animals that eat them. When plants and animals die, their bodies, wood and leaves decay, transferring the carbon into the ground. Some of this carbon gets buried miles underground and becomes fossil fuel millions of years later.
Carbon levels in the atmosphere are rising
Up until about 300 years ago (roughly the start of the Industrial Revolution), these fossil fuel carbons (“old carbon”) had been locked within the earth. Since then, the release of buried carbon through extraction and consumption has disrupted the balance of the natural carbon exchange system that existed up until then.
Today there is more carbon dioxide in our air. Its content in the atmosphere is gradually and steadily increasing. According to research, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen over 20% since the late 19th century.
This phenomenon is likely due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, which leads to higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the air. Our reliance on fossil fuels and the innumerable products made from them is creating a substantial negative impact on our environment, namely in the form of trapped greenhouse gases that are warming the atmosphere and altering our planet.
Disposable products made from petroleum are a factor
Our every day, unbridled consumption of disposable, petroleum-based plastic products is certainly one of the factors that is contributing to an increase in greenhouse gases.
The more plastic we use, the more petroleum is needed to produce them. Every to-go container, every disposable cup, and every throw-away plastic fork in use required fossil fuel to produce. Multiply that factor by billions, and we’ve got an unsustainable situation that is harming the natural balance of the Earth.
|CARBON TYPE||NEW CARBON||OLD CARBON|
|Carbon Exchange||Closed system/recycles||None/increased levels|
The amount of throwaway packaging used today is enormous. Foodservice operations of all kinds need them to serve their customers. Often however, it is impractical or inconvenient for many businesses to offer customers reusable containers and serveware that need to be washed and sterilized.
Disposables are a given. But using petroleum based products derived from fossil fuels doesn’t have to be. Nowadays, there are alternatives.
Products made from biomass are carbon neutral
Biomass plant sources (“new carbon”) absorb carbon from the atmosphere during the photosynthesis process. The plants then convert the carbon to glucose, which in turn can be converted into more complicated molecules such as sugars, starches, oils and proteins.
These sugars and starches form the base material for bioplastics — PLA (polylactide) products will breakdown when disposed of in an actively managed composting facility.
When these and other packaging products made from biomass are composted, the carbon is returned to the soil. This process not only introduces fewer, net-new greenhouse emissions (such as those that originate in landfills), it also aids in the growth of new plants. It is a perfect balance, and why products made from plant sources are carbon neutral.
Utilizing agricultural by-products as source material keeps carbon from reentering the atmosphere
For their dinnerware, VerTerra™ collects fallen leaves from tree plantations. BagasseWare® utilizes harvested sugarcane fibers left over after juice extraction. Both products prevent agricultural waste from being burned, a process that pollutes and releases carbon dioxide into the air.
Instead of sourcing their raw material from paper mills, Bridge-Gate uses wheat straw fibers from GMO-free harvested wheat (free of genetically modified organisms) for their products. They also strategically located their factory near the farms that grow the wheat to cut down on transport fossil fuel emissions.
Replacing harmful chemicals and eliminating pesticide use can help reduce greenhouse gases
BioBag® uses only GMO-free certified crops for their bags, as well as soy-based inks for printing instead of those containing heavy metals.
Many brands, including BagasseWare® and Bridge-Gate, source their material from wood pulp mills that use elemental chlorine-free bleach for whitening. This action substantially reduces the amount of chlorinated organic compounds (such as dioxins) that are released from mills into waterways, and that later evaporate into the atmosphere.
Responsibly managed forests help balance carbon in the atmosphere
Planting trees and practicing sustainable forestry can positively affect the carbon cycle and help slow the growth of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.
Third party certifications such as SFI® (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) can help customers determine which products to choose to meet their own sustainability standards.
For instance, tree fibers used to make ecotainer® cups come from SFI® certified forests that adhere to responsible forest management and harvesting guidelines. No trees from old-growth or endangered forests are used.
Earth Friendly Products does not use any plant sources that come from rainforests or areas vital to sustaining endangered wildlife.
Replanting of both trees and crops help ensure carbon capture and storage. And biomass feedstock sources — whether tree fibers, corn, sugar cane, wheat or sugar beets are renewable — unlike fossil fuels.
The widespread use of disposables made from petroleum must be curbed
Replacing petroleum-based foodservice disposables with those made from plants is an important step in the march towards preventing greenhouse gas emissions.
These and other steps taken to avoid using fossil fuels will move us closer to the ideal of having no net effect on the amount of carbon in the biosphere, in other words, to be carbon neutral.