By Christina Lalor
There may be a lot of jargon you aren’t familiar with surrounding “green” initiatives and environmental sustainability. Today’s Green Living Blog post is here to break it all down for you. The more you know, the more likely you are to take action! We don’t want it to feel like drinking from a fire house with all these new terms and info, you just have to take it step by step. From understanding the difference between biodegradable and compostable to knowing how to find your carbon footprint and what impact it has, Élay’s Green Living Blog is here to help.
Any time I get involved in something new- it’s like walking into a world of unfamiliar terms and words, concepts I have not grasped yet, and practices I am unfamiliar with. When I started rock climbing, I felt like everyone was speaking a different language around me. I wasn’t familiar with all the lingo, climbing slang, safety terms, jargon for identifying different rocks, etc. I felt out of place and a little embarrassed. But then I remembered that everyone had to start somewhere and this is my start. So I started asking questions, googling words I had never heard about and immersed myself in the community. Does this sound a bit familiar to you? Many people just getting started on their journey to living a more eco-conscious life may feel the same; overwhelmed and intimidated by all the terminology surrounding green practices and initiatives. Not to worry, we’re here to break it all down for you. Consider this your go-to glossary for all things Green Living related. Below are some important definitions and terms to help get you started on understanding the eco-conscious “green” lifestyle. If you know some terms and definitions, feel free to add them in our comments section!
The act of using waste products in order to generate energy, heat, steam such as burning biomass for heat generation. This is the process of converging non-recycle waste into usable electricity or fuel. Often through the process of gasification, combustion, landfill gas recovery or anaerobic digestion! The process is also commonly known as waste to energy!
Ability of materials to naturally decompose by bacteria and other living organisms and return to nature. To qualify as biodegradable, a material must completely break down and decompose into natural elements within a short time after disposal (a year or less).
All of Élay’s tableware is biodegradable, as there are zero added toxins, chemicals or dyes. They fully biodegrade within 60 - 90 days of being composted. Our tableware is still a leaf sheath, it has just been customized into a mold. So it will naturally fall from the Areca Palm Tree and it will return to the Earth to decompose!
Composting is the process of decomposing organic materials into simpler organic and inorganic compounds by the microorganisms. It’s a way to recycle organic materials which may otherwise end up in landfills! A solid compost is rich in plant nutrients and beneficial organisms!
Some benefits include reducing landfill waste, creating nutrient rich soil, reducing greenhouse gases, neutralizes soil, increases biodiversity, reduces erosion, and averts garden pests along with many others.
So what’s the difference between compostable and biodegradable? They sound pretty similar, we know. All compostable material is biodegradable, not all biodegradable material is compostable! Although something may be able to biodegrade, it may leave behind metal residue while compostable items return to the earth with an added benefit of releasing valuable nutrients and aiding the growth of plants.
Every person has a carbon footprint! One’s carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases generated in order to support their life. Specifically, it is the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by one person or group. So when I go to the store, I don’t just consider my transportation there and back. I consider the greenhouse gases used for the farming, packaging, transporting of all my grocery items.
Calculate your carbon footprint here! Knowing what your carbon footprint is can help you reduce it- look at some of the main contributors in your life.
This brought me back to the AP Biology days. CFCs are organic compounds that have only 3 ingredients 1) carbon 2) fluorine and 3) chlorine. CFCs are non-toxic, nonflammable chemicals and are used for manufacturing aerosol sprays, packing materials, or solvents.
CFCs not only endanger our ozone level on a global level, but they can also cause a variety of health issues affecting one’s heart, lungs, liver, nervous system, and kidneys.
This is not to be confused with biodegradable- degradable refers to a material that breaks down through chemical reactions rather than from microorganisms. Chemical additives are used from plastics to make the material crumble more than it would naturally. These take quite a bit longer to break down than biodegradable items and are not compostable!
This refers to the concept of doing more with less- something we at Elay think about quite a bit. This requires reducing the amount of materials used for specific functions such as printing- so much can now be done virtually and online that printing paper is not a necessity.
You are probably familiar with “greenhouse gas emissions” or “carbon emissions,” what do those mean? Emissions are a byproduct of human activity, so no you don’t want a lot of this. More specifically, it is the gases and particles one puts into the air, something that can be released into the open. There’s tons and tons of types of emissions - exhaust, perfect combustion, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, the list can go on and go. Be mindful of your emissions and find ways to reduce these and live more naturally.
Fair Trade is an arrangement designed to help products in developing countries achieve sustainable and equitable trade relationships. Since the Industrial Revolution and globalization, it has become easy for superpower countries to cheaply outsource labor and materials without abiding by the work laws their country has.
Our manufacturers and producers in India are members of the fair trade movement, adding payment of higher prices to exporters to help improve social and environmental standards. Growers and producers deserve fair prices and opportunities for their products and goods.
A fossil fuel is any hydrocarbon deposit used for fuel like oil, coal or natural gas. They are called “fossil” fuels because they take many many years to be created in the natural environment. They are formed by natural processes
The four main fossil fuels are petroleum, coal, natural gas and orimulsion- none of which would be considered “green.” They are made from fossilized and buried remains of plants and animals lived millions of years ago meaning fossil fuels have a very high carbon content!
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
GMOs are organisms (plants, animals, microorganisms) in which their genetic material, their DNA, has been altered in a way that is not natural like mating or natural recombination. Instead their DNA is spliced with that of another living organism, virus or bacteria in hopes of creating better crops, livestock, or disease resistance. When thinking about the food we eat, I would prefer to eat something that has not been artificially altered by introducing genes not natural to the food life I am eating.
Greenhouse gasses refer to all the gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect (climate change). They trap the sun’s UV rays and heat in our atmosphere and prevent the warmth from leaving the atmosphere back into space. We need them to keep Earth warm, but with industrialization and the current way we are moving, we have far too many greenhouse gases.
Greenhouse gasses include carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, CFCs, HFCs, and PFCs and well as sulfur hexafluoride!
Global Climate Change
Refers to the gradual but imminent increase in the Earth’s average temperature, caused largely by Greenhouse Gasses- a result of excess levels of pollutants in the atmosphere. Earth’s increase in temperature is due to anthropogenic (human) activity. Global climate change is also referred to as global warming.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot with businesses in the current world. Organizations and businesses try to look like they are environmentally conscious citizens who are taking responsible action, but they are in fact, not! I bet if businesses put as much time, energy and money into appearing green as they would to adopting green policies, they’d actually save quite a bit!
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a certification to recognize and encourage building practices and strategies to be more sustainable and respect the environment. Between residential and commercial, there are different levels of being LEED certified. Many are government regulated, but every building should work to be as green and efficient as possible!
This energy is derived from sources that are not depleted when energy is used. Power, wind, solar energy are all renewable sources- by using them we do not diminish their life.
ewable resource because we do not cut down any trees in our production process. Unlike bamboo, that has to cut down their trees and leaves; our products will continue to produce as long as our trees live. So we want to keep them growing healthy and hearty for as long as possible. They naturally shed 4-6 times a year, our farmers collect the leaf sheaths and bam- that’s how we use a renewable resource to spread sustainable practices!
One of our favorite concepts here at Elay! Sustainability is a simple concept, our current generation needs to meet its demands without compromising the world for future generations. Its impact is widespread from finding ways to replenish consumed foods on a daily basis around the world to making sure you carry around your water bottle with you!
Sustainability can be as big or small of a concept as you want it to be in your life- you can have a sustainable diet, a sustainable workout routine, a sustainable relationship with your roommates or you can go all out and live a zero waste, sustainable life! It means reducing our human-made impact on the planet to allow future generations to enjoy this beautiful Earth!
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
You may have heard about VOCs before, but if not no worries! That’s what we are here for. They are organic, carbon-based compounds that easily transform into vapor or gas. Tons of products emit VOCs when used- oils, paints, natural gasses, glues, etc. VOCs impact air quality, inside and outside, most air quality alerts are due to smog from VOCs. There are numerous health effects as well as environmental consequences to emittings VOCs into our ozone layer.
Now that you are equipped with some definitions to start you out, here comes the fun part! Keep learning, educating oneself goes beyond just memorizing a few definitions or some fancy words. The most important part is taking what you have learned and applying it to your life!
Melamine may not sound like a familiar term for you, but I can almost guarantee you have likely eaten off a melamine product quite a few times throughout your life, most likely within the last week even. Although it is FDA approved and not considered a public health concern, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best thing to put in your body. Chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol are all legal, but that doesn’t mean they are the best options for our health and safety. Now, let’s get into some science so we can all understand what the heck melamine is, what the effects are of using it and what our best alternatives are!
What is Melamine?
Melamine (melamine-formaldehyde resin) is a nitrogen-based chemical compound used by many manufacturers globally to create a variety of products like plastics, adhesives and industrial coatings. It is a byproduct of the coal industry. This binding agent is a manufacturer’s dream because it helps their products avoid constantly breaking like fancy china might- especially helpful if you live in a house with a lot of boys. Melamine is an incredibly versatile compound, you may find melamine plates, tableware, cups, utensils, bowls, ramekins, or even chopsticks!
Melamine forms molecular structures that mold, when heat activated, to adapt to the shape of the tableware. Here’s the catch with that- due to the chemical reaction this causes, small amounts of melamine are left in the product they are making. This left-over melamine, in time, migrates out of the plastic and onto the food or drink it comes into contact with.
Here’s the big kicker with melamine- although it may barely be FDA approved, it does not fall under the environmentally-friendly category. It should not be thrown in your recycling bin because it cannot be melted for recycling like other plastics. Many products like bamboo say they are fully biodegradable, but may contain 40% melamine and do not break down as they should in the environment. Many products claim they are biodegradable, compostable, or should be recycled but they do not get broken down properly. It’s important to do some research and figure out what happens to your trash, recycling or compost after it gets picked up. Check out your local recycling, compost or trash center to learn more about how to best dispose of specific products you use!
What products contain melamine?
Alright so now we know what melamine is, how are we supposed to know if our products have melamine? It is used for such a wide variety of manufacturing needs. I guarantee you many of the products you already use or have used contain melamine. It can be incorporated in products anywhere from whiteboard wall paneling to formica countertops to the plates you use to eat your meals! Just writing that out made me think “maybe I shouldn’t use a product that is used on to create white board panelling to eat my home cooked meals on?”
Unfortunately, melamine came to the forefront of conversation because of concerns with manufacturers in China adulterating their milk illegally with melamine. Since melamine is so high in nitrogen, tests will interpret this nitrogen content as protein leaving some sketchy manufacturer adding melamine to improve their protein content. This is just one company that was brought to the forefront and caught. My rule of thumb is the more natural and pure a product is, the less margin there is for toxins and chemicals to be present. Here are some of the most common products that may contain melamine:
There are various ways to tell if melamine is being used in your products. The first one may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised at how many people might miss this- check the ingredient list for “food-grade melamine binder” or anything with the word melamine in it. The second is if your dish is brightly colored, it is likely melamine was used in the production process.
Can the melamine from these products get into foods and drinks? What problems can melamine cause if people eat or drink food contaminated with it?
Although it is not considered toxic in most products, there are still quite a few health concerns you should be aware of. Melamine isn’t considered a concern to human health until it reaches a certain level. It wasn’t until 2008 that the FDA began an official investigation into the safety and health concerns of melamine in tableware. This began because there were 52,857 cases of nephrolithiasis (kidney stones) reported in China linked to the consumption of melamine. Manufacturers were illegally adding melamine to infant milk formulas to increase protein content. There were about “13,000 hospitilizatoins, and at least 3 deaths confirmed to date” (Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States Government). The investigation and studies proved that this Chinese-produced powdered infant formula contained trace amounts of melamine toxic to infants. Melamine has been detected in various other product categories like beverages and confections. This just proves how important it is to know what is in your products and make informed purchasing decisions!
Although the FDA didn’t rule melamine as a public health concern, any products with melamine contamination above the rates noted in the FDA’s risk assessment may put people’s health at risk- these risks include kidney stones, kidney failure or possible death. The Interim Safety and Risk Assessment of Melamine and Its Analogues in Food for Humans “estimated that if 50 percent of the diet were contaminated at a level of 2.5 ppm of melamine and its analogues, a person's daily intake would equal 0.063 mg/kg bw/d —a level 10-fold below the TDI. Therefore, FDA concludes that levels of melamine and melamine-related compounds below 2.5 ppm do not raise public health concerns in food other than infant formula.” This does not mean, however, that it is a safe product- this is just the limitations it has before it is harmful.
If I were to microwave my food on a melamine plate, the exposure and risk significantly increases and I am then exposing myself to toxic chemicals. Plastic and bamboo tableware will specify that they are not microwave-safe - meaning you should never heat food or drinks on it. If you’re like me and not the best at listening to rules- no, you can’t microwave them because they will blow up or anything like that, it is because you will be exposing yourself and putting your own health into harm’s way! Eating more acidic foods (like oranges) on these plates also increases your exposure risk. You should only use ceramic or other microwave-safe specific cookware when heating food, such as Élay Prouct’s disposable, toxin-free Palm Leaf tableware!
Another large concern regarding melamine is that doctors don’t fully know all the effects of chronic melamine exposure, a lot of the current research comes from animal studies. If you have been exposed to large intakes of melamine, see below for signs for melamine poisoning:
What are other toxins present in disposable tableware?
I would have never guessed on my own that bamboo was a product that uses melamine as a binding agent. Well, that’s mostly because before this year I didn't even know what melamine is. So what other toxins and chemicals are hiding in my tableware? Here are a list of your other uninvited dinner guests:
So what is the best alternative?
Great question! It’s us- Èlay Products! Just because melamine has not yet been phased out of the industry, does not mean we should continue to buy and use these products- we deserve better! We offer an alternative tableware option to keep your family, pets and yourself safe!
Élay Products offers non-toxic, zero-chemical, 100% biodegradable tableware! Too good to be true? Nope, it’s true and I’m here to show you just how amazing Elay’s tableware is and why it is the safest and most efficient disposable option. Many people use melamine in their tableware because it is such a strong binding agent and avoids tableware breaking. Élay’s tableware is insanely durable and 100% natural. Children in India will actually use the leaf sheaths, what we use to create our products, as sleds! So yes, it can hold that heavy plate of food for you. Élay’s dinnerware is durable, strong and flexible! Most manufacturers and customers love the low replacement rate that comes with using melamine products, but now they have an even better option!
Another reason our palm leaf tableware is your best option- you can microwave or freeze Élay’s tableware! Most plastic, bamboo or paper disposables can not be heated because it releases toxins we talked about before onto your food! Gross- nobody wants that! With Élay, you can take your leftover dish in your to-go container out of the refrigerator and place it right in the microwave without having a worry in the world!
Lastly, Élay’s products are pet and human safe! Melamine in pet food has unfortunately been the cause of death for hundreds of cats and dogs in the USA. Many companies, unfortunately, put this nitrogen-rich compound in its products to make it appear they have more protein than they do. If we can do anything at all at Élay that has an impact, I hope we can at least inform our community of these toxins. Be safe when purchasing disposable tableware, remember the impact these toxins may have on your health and the environment and choose Élay Products!
By Jack Hornsby
If you are a health conscious individual who cares about the environment, but still loves meat there really aren’t too many options. Obviously factory farming is awful for both the animals it rears and for the environmental impact that it has. Recently, however, there has been some very encouraging news from the lab grown meat industry that has me thinking that someday very soon I won't have to choose between supporting immoral factory farming and completely stopping eating meat altogether.
History of lab grown meat
In the 1950’s a Dutch scientist named William Van Elen came up with the idea of growing meat in a lab setting after having seen the horrors of food shortages caused by World War 2. While the technology just was not available that far back, this idea got the ball rolling on lab grown meat. Fast forward to the early 70’s and a scientist successfully cultured a Guinea Pig aorta, but even still, lab grown meat for consumption was a long way ahead, even with this progress. Finally in 2013 the first beef burger patty was made in a lab, but there was a catch. This first lab grown burger patty had taken 2 years and $300,000 to create! On top of this, it was only muscle tissue in this patty and no fat, whereas a fairly standard burger is about 20% fat. Critics who tried this first burger said it was “pretty good”, and that it was incredibly close to the real thing. In a little over 7 years since this first lab grown beef patty was created, the lab grown meat industry has seen a relative boom in both technology, sustainability, and investment into it.
Where is lab grown meat today?
I personally try my very hardest to live as environmentally sustainable as possible, but I just cannot fully give up meat, so I keep a very close eye on the developments in the lab grown meat industry. What inspired the writing of this article was a recent development in Singapore, where lab grown chicken bites are going to be available to the public soon, following a 2 year testing stint. These chicken bites underwent rigorous testing to ensure they were safe and of high quality. Now that they have been approved by the government of Singapore they will be available to the public at select restaurants. In these chicken bite’s current form they will be more expensive than their animal- based counterparts, as well as being in much more limited supply. The company that produces these chicken bites has given assurances that within the next few years this product will be more affordable than animal based meats. Almost all other lab grown meat companies are still figuring out how to cheaply and effectively produce their products and get them into the hands of the public. There is one other notable company in Israel producing lab grown meat that is at an advanced stage in their testing and is currently offering samples to the public. As a whole, the lab grown meat industry is generally still developing their product or at least in closed testing phases.
Benefits of using lab grown meat
One of the main benefits of lab grown meat, in my eyes, is ending the process of factory farming. I have seen too many documentaries of the horrible conditions that these animals live in just to give consumers reasonably priced meat. If the rise of lab grown meat products is successful, hopefully that could be the end to factory farming. Even if non lab grown meat is a food source that is here to stay then lab grown meat will push meat producers to go a more organic route and provide better conditions and treatments for their livestock.
I think the absolute biggest potential benefit of the rise of lab grown meat is going to be lessening the environmental impact of raising such large quantities of animals for consumption. Just about every aspect of mass livestock breeding, raising, and consumption has a negative impact on the environment. The amount of land used to raise the number of livestock that humans consume is absolutely enormous. Over 309 million acres is used just for grazing in the U.S., and even more is used for the production of animal feed. Much of the land used for this production is made up of destroyed habitats of other wild animals. If you want to learn more about this aspect of factory farming, I would highly encourage anyone to look at the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil for cattle ranches. Next, the waste of the animals raised pollutes the land and our atmosphere. Massive amounts of animal waste runs off from these factory farms and runs into the land and water around them, making it not only disgusting, but also unsafe. The real kicker here, however, is that raising animals for human consumption makes up about 15% of all human caused CO2 emissions every single year. Without these emissions climate change, and our planet, would be in a much better place. Finally, it takes an absolutely massive amount of resources to raise an animal to the point where it can be killed for meat. The amount of water and feed used to raise 1 cow to be consumed has a massive environmental impact. Hopefully with the developments in the lab grown meat industry, it can reach a point where it is more energy and resource efficient than factory farming methods.
Concerns with lab grown meat
The first concern that i know i think when discussing the topic of lab grown meat is “is it safe to eat?” Sure, lab grown meat is made by some very smart and educated individuals, but this is such a new development that we don’t even really know what effects that meat grown in a lab could have on a human, as opposed to tried and true regular meat. I personally think this is a well founded concern, but governments around the world are working to address any safety concerns. Most governments that are toying with the idea of having widespread use of lab grown meats in their countries are making producers undergo a long and arduous testing process to ensure the public’s safety when eating lab grown meat. The European Union requires a full 18 month test process, while Singapore requires a 2 year test process.
One of the other biggest concerns about lab grown meats in their current state is energy and resource usage. Back in 2013 when that first lab grown burger was created for a whopping $300,000 - that was absolutely ridiculous, and the resources spent there certainly do not offset the environmental impact that a regular burger would have taken to create. That said, technology has come a very long way since 2013 in the lab grown meat field. With the recent public sale of lab grown chicken bites in Singapore, we’ve seen that it is in fact realistic to get the prices of lab grown meat down into a reasonable range. While the company producing these chicken bites has said that they will be initially more expensive than non lab grown chicken, they are hoping that in the near future the prices will drop. Not only will lab grown meat be affordable, but in the near future it will be MUCH more environmentally sustainable than the factory farming methods that we see being utilized around the world.
Where will lab grown meat be in the next 5 years?
Most lab grown meat companies have a current goal of trying to get their products on store shelves, and in the public’s hands within the next 5 years. It really seems like the technology for lab grown meat is racing forwards - going from a $300,000 burger patty to over priced chicken bites in a restaurant within about 7 years really is amazing when you think about it. While in its current state, lab grown meat is still a couple steps away from being available to the general public. However, so much progress is being made in the industry that we’re only a couple years away from being able to try it, and hopefully be able to buy it at our leisure.