Sunday, September 12, 2010

When Yellow and Blue No Longer Make Green: Saying Good-bye to Ziploc

As I type this, I’ve got 712 Ziploc bags stashed in a closet that are never going to see the light of day. No, I wasn’t considering a Mary Louise Parker-style sideline business; these bags have been forsaken for an entirely different reason:  the clear knowledge that when it comes to packing lunch, “yellow and blue” no longer make green.

Green, as in environmentally friendly green.

I don’t have the perspective to call this a tipping point, but, in my house, the age of the Ziploc is officially over.

It’s been a great forty year reign for them, and thanks to the particularities of airport security, I have a feeling there’ll always be a market for the bags, but woe is the mother who sends her kid off to school with a free-range turkey and cheese sandwich packed in one.

That’s a no-no, a bit like sending three dozen chocolate and glazed munchkins from Dunkin' Donuts in for snack time. I’ve never done that. But, believe me, everyone knows the name of the mother who did. There are some things you just can’t live down, especially in preschool.

The edict against Ziploc bags was issued early last month:

Send your child’s lunch in ‘green’ packaging, which means using reusable ‘Tupperware’ like containers instead of disposable Ziploc bags.”

This came from the director of my daughters’ school, and was part of a longer letter explaining their pursuit of LEED certification for existing buildings, a benchmark for green buildings established by the United States Building Council.

The new carpets installed over the summer don’t off-gas noxious odors; the fingerprints lining the hallways have been covered with low VOC paint; and instead of ammonia, the aroma of back-to-school in my era, the entire place smells pretty much like nothing, which is precisely the goal. They hope to create better indoor air quality, spend less, and set an example for the kids and their families. I support these efforts 100%.

But tiny plastic bags are a particular vice of mine, and I did consider my options.

Oh, I could have said I’d wash the bags and reuse them, but it’s actually pretty hard to get sticky peanut butter (or a substitute) off the interior of a Ziploc. Reusing them saves resources and cuts down on emissions, but it’s not the perfect solution, anyway, according to a piece on the subject in June’s Mother Jones Magazine. Kiera Butler estimates in the Econumdrums column that it takes, “.17 gallons of water per washing (of a baggie) or four times the amount required to make a new plastic bag.”

I could become what SC Johnson, the maker of Ziploc, calls an “Eco Mom” and buy their new line of Ziploc Evolve bags, which are made with “25% less plastic and with wind energy **.”

The double asterisks indicate that when they say “wind energy” what they really mean is “wind energy and energy from traditional energy sources.”

It’s not as easy finding this line of bag, and even if I could, to say they use 25% less plastic than a regular Ziploc, a thick and gadget-heavy product to begin with, only says so much.

And, it doesn’t help that the press release on the Ziploc Evolve seems to have been modeled after both Betty Crocker and The Manchurian Candidate.

A new breed of mom is emerging—the Eco Mom, who wants to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle to protect the environment for future generations—without compromising convenience, quality or budget. And, she feels guilty when she can’t do it all.”

I would think it might be SC Johnson that might feel a tad guilty considering their Greenlist label affixed to their other products like Windex and Shout has earned them two class action lawsuits, with one in California set to go to trial in April 2011.

At question in those cases is whether the Greenlist label suggested to consumers that an objective third party lauded the ingredients as being environmentally friendly, when it was the company that created the seal.

The bottles of Windex I saw for sale today no longer had the little Greenlist sticker, but it will be interesting to see what happens in these trials and others, especially once the Federal Trade Commission updates its Green Guides (officially called The Environmental Marketing Guide) in the coming months, after more than a decade of falling behind.

At the annual meeting of the American Bar Association, one Chicago attorney, Jami A. Gerkas, presented A Primer on the Legal Issues Surrounding Environmentally Friendly (Green) Marketing Claims. The cases against SC Johnson were mentioned along with many others, and most striking to me was the evidence of a bombardment of “green” in consumer marketing.

Gerkas quotes a 2009 report on “Trends in Trademarks” that says applications for federal trademarks containing the word GREEN increased 32% from 2008, and containing the prefix “ECO-", by 86%.

So, it’s up to Eco-Moms to decide if Evolve, and other products like it, are true evolutions or just marketing maneuvers.

And, that potential confusion, added to the fact that I deliberately wait until the last minute to pack my kids’ lunches, has made my transition away from Ziploc bags pretty clumsy.

Frankly, I’ve panicked.

And, in trying to consume less, I’ve turned into a hyper-consumer of waste -free consumption.

Because when my two year old is trying to stuff oatmeal down my dog’s ears and my five year old has just discovered that her tights are on inside out, I’ll be cutting the crusts off some sandwich and reaching for:

--One of 60 unbleached waxed paper bags

--The correct size BPA free Tupperware container (19 to choose from)

--A stainless steel cup with a BPA free plastic lid (ordered at 1 A.M. from Amazon two days ago)

If I am unable to stuff the sandwich, snacks and thermos into the lunchbox, I have “Plan B” hidden in another location: a pink, lead-free Lunchopolis lunchbox system, containing its own set of certified BPA and lead free containers, a reusable water bottle and an inspirational quote from Henry David Thoreau.

If that fails, I can pawn my engagement ring and get the Prius of Bento Box lunch systems, Laptop Lunches, or four Lunchskins (as seen in O Magazine, coming in at around $8 a piece, not including shipping.)

I have come to realize that the sense of order in my house has often been just a Ziploc bag away from total chaos:

Goldfish crackers, freshly washed grapes, apple slices and graham crackers—toss ‘em in zip ‘em up.

One hundred beads rolling around the living room floor—there’s a bag for that.

Socks, shampoo and diaper cream, about to head into a suitcase and onto a cargo belt—there are multiple bags for that.

I once put Ziploc bags secured with rubber bands on my golden retriever’s paws when the salt sprinkled on icy sidewalks irritated him on walks; and if he were smaller or the bags were bigger, I’m sure I would have figured out a way to catch his fur before it shed.

For years, Ziploc has contained, if not organized, the sprawling, unwieldy elements of my life.

Despite the need, it’s been very say good-bye.

P.S.-Yesterday was September 11, and as usual on that day, I thought about the firehouse I lived across the street from in my days in Tribeca. My roommate was a tall, blonde, model from Milwaukee, so you can imagine that the guys in the house paid a little extra attention to our comings and goings. I was living uptown by the time the towers fell, and I never knew what happened to the men in Hook and Ladder 8--famous for, among other things, being used in the Ghost Busters movies. So, yesterday I checked the list of the fallen on the NYFD website and found the name of their one representative killed on that day: Lieutenant Vincent Halloran, father to six. He’s written about in this moving piece by Sports Illustrated photographer Chuck Solomon. Link to story.


Tim Morrissey said...

Who knew - certainly not my mom - that by sending me off to grade school in the 50's with my Roy Rogers lunchbucket and the waxed-paper-wrapped sandwich (waxed paper to be returned to mom for re-use until disgusting)and piece of fruit, that she was at least half a century ahead of her time!

Very thought-provoking post, Sarah.

Lunch Box Mom said...

I was thinking, too, how things come full circle--and how the idea of a kid walking home for lunch probably was the best way--less packaging and a bit of exercise mixed in.
Reused waxed paper is a new one for me--we'll see if we can get two uses out of it!

Anonymous said...

This was the first year my son had to bring his own lunch. And then I ended up making a lunch for my daughter to take to daycare and, of course, a lunch for myself. (My husband throws caution to the wind with "whole" foods - the entire jar of mayo, a can of tuna and a sleeve of crackers.)

We've used several reusable containers and, even though the cute factor is high, I have to admit I miss our Ziplocs. The lunchboxes just don't really work with a lot of the containers without Tetris-style spacial skills.

Anonymous said...

How about you deciding what's right for yourself and your child rather than top-down authoritarian control freak Lunch Nazis who think they know everything about how you should live your life?

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