Sunday, 5 September 2010

Life's little luxuries

Toilet roll. One of the nicest of modern conventions, yet in some ways another bane of my life. In my bid to be plastic-free, acquiring toilet roll is one of my ongoing problems.

Plastic-free toilet roll just doesn’t seem to exist. At least, not in the dark depths of Cornwall in which I live. Toilet roll is paper after all, surely it wouldn’t be that difficult to wrap it in a thin paper covering rather plastic? What do I do? Give up toilet roll?

The Moneyless Man
I have recently finished reading a new book by Mark Boyle, the founder of the Freeconomy community. Titled ‘The Moneyless Man’, it recounts a year spent – you guessed it – living without money. It’s a really interesting read which I highly recommend. Very inspiring in many ways, it forced me to consider my own views and wants in terms of the type of lifestyle I seek, though the ultimate conclusion I drew was that I couldn’t go as far as he has. Not without ditching Bron, anyway, as he’s made it very clear to me that that is well beyond what he deems acceptable.

So what does the moneyless man use for toilet roll? If I remember correctly, newspaper - for the most part. But more importantly are the issues he raises about the modern convenience that is the toilet. I won’t go into a lot of detail here as I’m getting off topic, suffice to say that using a resource as vital and valuable as water to defecate in is, frankly, a bit stupid. Compost toilets are the more sensible route.

Ecoleaf and Bioplast
So, newspaper. I have yet to suggest this idea to Bron, but I suspect I can already his reaction. ‘No way!’ would probably be the most polite way to sum up what I can imagine his answer would be.

Which leaves me rather limited options, given as I don’t think either he, our neighbours, or our landlady would go for the construction of a human compost area in our tiddly, heavily overlooked back garden either. For the time being, therefore, I have settled on Ecoleaf toilet rolls. The packaging on these, though plastic, says, ‘100% compostable wrap; 100% recycled paper; 100% commitment’.

100% compostable? This brings me right back to the degradable plastics debate started in my previous post, ‘Degradable Bin Bags?’ But, ‘Ecoleaf toilet tissue is wrapped in Bioplast, a plasticizer-free and fully compostable packaging. It will biodegrade TOTALLY under the influence of soil-based micro-organisms without the need for human intervention. Made from potato starch and natural co-polymers, it is both sustainable and renewable. This product has been designed to be fully compostable.’

This packaging sounds like a degradable plastic in the more real sense than the D2W bin bags. The packaging lists it’s manufacturer as ‘Bioplast’, but when I visit their website I find myself incredibly confused - the description of their manufacturing process is so badly written that I could barely make head nor tail of it - which leaves me clueless when it comes to the details behind this particular product. So I decided to email them, to which their response has left me even more confused. Their product isn’t yet on the market, they tell me, so I must be barking up the wrong tree. Humph. So I try emailing Suma, the company behind the Ecoleaf brand, but receive absolutely no response at all from them. Humph again.

EN 13432
The best I can do is extend from the quote on the packaging. Being made from potato starch is an excellent start – a truly natural and easily degraded material - although I’d like to know what exactly the natural co-polymers they refer to are. The packaging also states that the plastic certified EN 13432.

EN 13432 is an internationally agreed standard that defines a plastic’s ability to degrade under commercial composting conditions. The advertisement of this standard on a plastic product is a good sign. However, the key term in the standard’s definition is ‘commercial’. Commercial, or industrial, composting units are much more tightly controlled systems than what the average citizen is likely to have in their back garden, creating and maintaining the most ideal composting environment, from temperature to PH and oxygen flow. This means that the composting process will be much quicker and more thorough than if I use my own composting bin. The issue with this is that once I put my rubbish out for the bin men to collect it, I don’t know whether it’ll be added to landfill or thrown in a composter – and so, even though the process may not be as efficient in my own bin, that’s what I plan to use, because at least I can be sure it is at least being given the opportunity to compost. I’ll just have to view it as a personal experiment to find out what will actually happen.

Read more about EN13432 and the OK Compost standards.

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