E-Commerce: Convenience Built on a Mountain of Cardboard

Have you ever thought of the environmental impacts of your online shopping?  You may (or may not) be buying all natural and organic products online to decrease the use of toxic chemicals and your environmental impact, but you still have an impact!  The old cliché fits here: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

By MATT RICHTEL–Februay 16, 2016

Ruchit Garg, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, says that he worries that something isn’t right with his Internet shopping habit. With each new delivery to his doorstep — sometimes several in a day — he faces the source of his guilt and frustration: another cardboard box.

Then, when he opens the shipment, he is often confronted with a Russian nesting doll’s worth of boxes inside boxes to protect his electronics, deodorant, clothing or groceries. Mr. Garg dutifully recycles, but he shared his concerns recently on Twitter.

A handful of scientists and policy makers are circling the same question, grappling with the long-term environmental effect of an economy that runs increasingly on gotta-have-it-now gratification. This cycle leads consumers to expect that even their modest wants can be satisfied like urgent needs, and not always feel so great about it.

The new arms race for Internet retailers is speed, making the old Federal Express commercial, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” seem as quaint as delivery by horse and buggy. Amazon boasted in a news release in December about its “fastest order delivered to date” — a Miami customer’s craving for a four-pack of Starbucks vanilla frappuccino was sated in 10 minutes flat.

In 10 major regions, Google Express delivers in a little less than two hours from dozens of stores — including toys, drugs, hardware and pet supplies. Postmates, a San Francisco start-up, promises deliveries in less than an hour. It dropped off nearly one million packages in December.

Over all, the $350 billion e-commerce industry has doubled in the last five years, with Amazon setting the pace. Its Prime membership service has grown to more than 50 million subscribers, by one estimate. (And its new faster service, Prime Now, can “get customers pretty much anything in minutes,” its website says).

Uber calls its new UberRush service “your on-demand delivery fleet”; Jet Delivery offers “white glove” service in less than two hours; Instacart can deliver groceries to your door in less than an hour.

The environmental cost can include the additional cardboard — 35.4 million tons of containerboard were produced in 2014 in the United States, with e-commerce companies among the fastest-growing users — and the emissions from increasingly personalized freight services.

“There’s a whole fleet of trucks circulating through neighborhoods nonstop,” said Dan Sperling, the founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, and the transportation expert on the California Air Resources Board. He also is overseeing a new statewide task force of trucking companies and government officials trying to reduce overall emissions from freight deliveries, including for e-commerce.

Dr. Sperling said that consumers shared as much responsibility for the environmental cost of the deliveries as the companies that provided the speedy services.

“From a sustainability perspective, we’re heading in the wrong direction,” he said.

But measuring the effect of the cardboard economy is more difficult.

E-commerce was responsible for much of the 35.4 million tons of containerboard produced in 2014 in the United States. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

There are possible trade-offs, for example. As people shop more online, they might use their cars less. And delivery services have immense incentive to find the most efficient routes, keeping their fuel costs and emissions down. For its part, Amazon said that delivering to consumers straight from huge warehouses cuts down the need to distribute to thousands of stores.

So far, though, shoppers appear to be ordering online while still driving to brick-and-mortar stores at least as much as in the past, according to Dr. Sperling and other academics. One recent study explored the environmental effect of Internet shopping in Newark, Del., and found that a rise in e-commerce in recent years by local residents corresponded to more trucks on the road and an increase in greenhouse emissions.

Ardeshi Faghri, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Delaware, said the increase of various emissions — which he estimated at 20 percent from 2001 to 2011 — “could be due to a multitude of reasons, but we think that online shopping and more delivery trucks are really one of the primary reasons.”

“Online shopping has not helped the environment,” he said. “It has made it worse.”

Other scholars say that, at least for now, online shopping appears to be complementing brick-and-mortar shopping, not replacing it.

“People who shop online also like to see and feel things,” said Cara Wang, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who studies transportation issues and has written a paper about habits of online shoppers. “And they have to return things.”

Dr. Wang and other researchers say the demand for instant delivery, in particular, creates challenges for trucking companies trying to be efficient. Instead of taking big truckloads to single retailers they now make more scattershot deliveries.

Many drivers deliver just one item. This is often the case for Postmates, which has a fleet of 15,000 freelance drivers signed up to make deliveries of whatever the customer orders — an Uber-like service, but for deliveries. The cost typically starts at $5, and a 9 percent service fee applied to the cost of the item. (The company says it also has about 5,000 deliverers who go on bike or foot in dense urban areas).


Ruchit Garg and his 3-year-old son with produce ordered online through Google. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

And the push for speed from marketers gives shoppers little incentive to wait.

“Why select one week if I can get it in one hour?” asked Miguel Jaller, an assistant professor at U.C. Davis who studies urban freight patterns.

Such is the case for Monica Rohleder, who admits to using Amazon Prime so much that “my husband jokes we keep Amazon in business.”

Ms. Rohleder, who lives in Los Angeles and works at a public relations firm, said she liked overnight delivery, but “within a couple of hours is best” because she is busy with work and her two young children. So she often does not order something until it’s urgent. “There’s the immediate gratification of getting something and checking it off your list,” she said.

One afternoon she received six boxes, from Amazon and Nordstrom, for a Hawaii trip, including bathing suits, workout clothes and coloring books. Some of the clothes did not fit, so she returned them.

She thinks more about the cardboard that comes into her house than the truck emissions, she said. “It’s embarrassing,” she added of her mass of weekly recycling.

Dennis Colley, the president of the Fibre Box Association — the trade group for the corrugated paper, or cardboard, industry — estimated that the use of boxes for e-commerce was growing faster than most other market segments. However, he emphasized the industry’s efforts to be environmentally conscious, and that 90 percent of corrugated packaging were recycled.

Amazon is aware of the cardboard issue. Since 2009, it has received 33 million comments, ratings and photographs about its packaging as part of its “packaging feedback program.” Amazon said it used that feedback to make sure that cardboard box size was consistent with the size of the product. It also works with manufacturers to send some products without additional cardboard packaging, said Craig Berman, a company spokesman.

Though recycling can make consumers think they are helping the environment, the process has its own costs, including the emissions from shipping it to recycling centers, which use a lot of energy and water. Don Fullerton, a professor of finance and an expert in economics and the environment at the University of Illinois, said one possible solution would be to make the retailers responsible for taking back the boxes. That would create incentives for them to come up with solutions for less packaging.

“And maybe not put a box inside a box inside a box,” he said

Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology, San Francisco’s main recycling processor, which collects 100 tons of cardboard every day, has a simpler solution: “Slow down consumption,” he said. “Slow down.”

(via New York Times)

The Parmesan Cheese You Sprinkle on Your Penne Could Be Wood

Color me shocked! …Not! Is it that surprising that the “parmesan cheese” you buy from Kraft/Walmart/etc. that does not need to be refrigerated is not authentic parmesan? Nope. At least it is just cellulose, which is relatively harmless! This article reminds me of the claims about faje olive oil about 2 years ago.  This shines a bright light on the disparity between providing quality and creating/increasing revenue. Labels are often misleading, which is why many consumers are so confused when it comes to making food and beauty choices.  On another note, sit and ask yourself about how a product is made, thinking of the human, environmental, and economic input and outputs.

By Lydia Mulvany–February 16, 2016

No Copyright Infringement Intended

Acting on a tip, agents of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration paid a surprise visit to a cheese factory in rural Pennsylvania on a cold November day in 2012.

They found what they were looking for: evidence that Castle Cheese Inc. was doctoring its 100 percent real parmesan with cut-rate substitutes and such fillers as wood pulp and distributing it to some of the country’s biggest grocery chains.

via Yahoo Finance.

The cheese police are on the case.  One might be tempted to think of this as a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of “NYPD Bleu,” except that the FDA wasn’t playing. Some grated Parmesan suppliers have been mislabeling products by filling them with too much cellulose, a common anti-clumping agent made from wood pulp, or using cheaper cheddar, instead of real Romano. Someone had to pay. Castle President Michelle Myrter is scheduled to plead guilty this month to criminal charges. She faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

German brewers protect their reputations with Reinheitsgebot, a series of purity laws first drawn up 500 years ago, and Champagne makers prohibit most vineyards outside their turf from using the name. Now the full force of the U.S. government has been brought to bear defending the authenticity of grated hard Italian cheeses. Which is good news for Neil Schuman.

For years, Schuman has been a one-man Reinheitsgebot, insisting that the fragrant granules Americans sprinkle on their pizza and penne ought to be the real thing; if not, the label should say so.

The stakes are 100 percent real for him. Schuman’s Fairfield, New Jersey-based company, Arthur Schuman Inc., is the biggest seller of hard Italian cheeses in the U.S., with 33 percent of the domestic market. He estimates that 20 percent of U.S. production — worth $375 million in sales — is mislabeled.

“The tipping point was grated cheese, where less than 40 percent of the product was actually a cheese product,” Schuman said. “Consumers are innocent, and they’re not getting what they bargained for. And that’s just wrong.”

How serious is the problem? Bloomberg News had store-bought grated cheese tested for wood-pulp content by an independent laboratory.

Cellulose is a safe additive, and an acceptable level is 2 percent to 4 percent, according to Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin. Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent, according to test results. Whole Foods 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent. Kraft had 3.8 percent.

“We remain committed to the quality of our products,” Michael Mullen, a Kraft Heinz Co. spokesman, said in an e-mail. John Forrest Ales, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said he questioned the reliability of testing a single sample and that Wal-Mart’s “compliance team is looking into these findings.”

Jewel-Osco is also investigating, spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco said in an e-mail. “We pride ourselves on the quality of products we deliver for our customers,” Trucco said.

“We strongly believe that there is no cellulose present,” Blaire Kniffin, a Whole Foods Market Inc. spokeswoman, said in an e-mail, adding that it could have been a false positive. “But we are investigating this matter.”

According to the FDA’s report on Castle, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, “no parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” the Market Pantry brand 100% grated Parmesan Cheese, sold at Target Corp. stores, and Always Save Grated Parmesan Cheese and Best Choice 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, sold by Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc., which along with its subsidiaries supplies 3,400 retail stores in 30 states. Instead, there was a mixture of Swiss, mozzarella, white cheddar and cellulose, according to the FDA.

Castle has never been an authorized Target vendor, according to Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder. “We are investigating the information provided in the report,” she said in an e-mail. Jeff Pedersen, an executive vice president of Associated Wholesale Grocers, had no comment.

DairiConcepts, a Springfield, Missouri-based cheese maker that’s a subsidiary of Dairy Farmers of America, said on its website that in a test of 28 brands, only one-third of label claims about protein levels in grated parmesan were accurate. The company blamed fillers such as cellulose.

Until recently, there was little incentive to follow labeling rules. Criminal cases are rare. That’s because the FDA, which enforces the country’s food laws, prioritizes health hazards, said John Spink, director of the Food Fraud Initiative at Michigan State University. But civil lawsuits abound. A Jan. 29 complaint accuses McDonald’s Corp. of selling pure mozzarella sticks that contain starch, considered a filler, a claim the company denies.

Cheese makers commit adulteration because it saves money.

Marty Wilson, chief executive officer of New York-based Sugar Foods, which buys cheese from Schuman and supplies major pizza chains with to-go packets of parmesan, said whenever his contracts come up for renewal, competitors peddling ersatz cheeses surface. And he has lost business to them. “We’re constantly battling cheap imitators across all of our product lines,” Wilson said.

Bob Greco of Cheese Merchants of America said competitors hawking bastardized products have underbid him by as much as 30 percent. “The bad guys win and the rule-followers lose,” Greco said.

The FDA regulates what can legally be called Parmesan or Romano according to standards established in the 1950s to ensure that manufacturers wouldn’t sell cheeses wildly different in composition.

Americans love their hard Italian cheeses. Last year, U.S. Parmesan output rose 11 percent from 2014 to around 336 million pounds, while Romano production grew 20 percent, to 54 million pounds, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Italian producers, however, aren’t loving it as much. The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, a trade group based in Rome, asked the European Union in December to protect its manufacturers against U.S. companies that were using the names of their cheeses and Italian flags on their packaging. “A deceit” is how the organization’s president, Giuseppe Alai, characterized Americans’ use of Italian names and symbols.

Of all the popular cheeses in the U.S., the hard Italian varieties are the most likely to have fillers because of their expense. Parmesan wheels sit in curing rooms for months, losing moisture, which results in a smaller yield than other cheeses offer. While 100 pounds of milk might produce 10 pounds of cheddar, it makes only eight pounds of Parmesan. That two-pound difference means millions of dollars to manufacturers, according to Sommer.

Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania-based Castle produced mainly imitation cheeses for nearly 30 years. The company, whose factory was adorned with crenelated battlements and curved archways to look like a medieval castle, had $19 million in sales in 2013.

The trouble started in 2010 when it began making what it called 100 percent grated Parmesan. A plant manager designed flawed recipes, and after Castle fired him in 2012, he alerted the FDA, the company said in a December 2012 letter to the agency, obtained through the FOIA.

The FDA accused Castle Cheese of marketing as real grated Parmesan what was in fact a mixture of imitation cheese and trimmings of Swiss, white cheddar, Havarti and mozzarella. After the probe, Castle stopped production of the problematic cheeses and dumped inventories. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

A lawyer for Michelle Myrter and Castle Cheese didn’t respond to requests for comment. In the 2012 letter to the FDA, Castle said there was inadequate documentation, and the FDA could note only the potential that the products weren’t 100 percent pure.

Lauren E. Sucher, an FDA spokeswoman, said the agency couldn’t comment on pending legal cases. “The FDA takes economic fraud very seriously,” she said in an e-mail.

The FDA’s investigation may be the spark that changes things, said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

“The industry wants to be known for a wholesome, safe, honest product — it’s what’s kept the industry growing for 100 years,” he said. “The wholesomeness of dairy products is a treasured part of our story.”

—With assistance from Craig Giammona and Leslie Patton.

(via Bloomberg/Yahoo Finance)

Review: Oyin Handmade Honey Hemp Conditioner

Oyin Handmade Honey Hemp Conditioner

This product was purchased by Nature’s Pulchritude. All opinions are that of Nature’s Pulchritude and have not be influenced in any way, shape, or form.

“Oh, Honey. It’s a natural humectant… nature’s gift for glowing, supple hair. Ah, Hemp Oil. With an incredibly rich array of Fatty Acids to ensure well-nourished tresses. Oh! Ah! Oyin’s Honey-Hemp Conditioner! How could it possibly be improved? Perhaps by adding just the smallest touch of Silk Protein and a generous dollop of Aloe Vera Gel… just to take the succulence over the top. ;o)”

NPOyinHoneyHemp2

I first started using this product about 4-5 years ago. I wanted to try the products for a few month and eventually got my hands on their ‘snack pack.’ I have since purchased 2 of the 33 ounce bottles. This product was pivotal on my natural hair “journey” and has been a staple. I use this conditioner both as a rinse out and deep conditioner, and have also experimented with using it as a leave-in. It is a fantastic moisturizer and leaves my hair feeling like silk!

Product

This is a fantastic conditioner. Great ingredients, great quality all around. This product does what it claims. The 33 ounce bottle is very convenient because it has a pump. A little goes a long way. 1 33 ounce bottle last me about a year with minimum biweekly use. It has a moderately thick consistency–not runny, not stiffly thick, just right and easily spreadable.

1 Globe

Scent

Sweet Citrus. That is the best way to describe how Honey Hemp conditioner smells. It smells really, really, really good. Depending on the products you use after conditioning the faint scent of the product will linger in your hair.

1 Globe

NPOyinHoneyHemp1

Moisture

Nourish and Moisture. Check, Check. This product does a great job moisturizing my hair. It works well as a rinse out, but works better as a deep conditioner. 30 minutes underneath a hooded dryer is enough. The moisturized feeling is not from a heavy silicones, waxes, etc. but from true moisturization! My hair feels moisturized after completely rinsing the product out of my hair. [Author’s Note: My hair type is predominately 4a, normal porosity, moderate density]

1 Globe

Detangling

I typically don’t use this product to detangle but it does work well for detangling. My hair is so well moisturized it does not re-tangle at all after detangling, which makes styling much easier.

1 Globe

EnviroFactor
Ingredients: Purified Water, Organic Aloe Vera Gel, Behentremonium Methosulfate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol (emulsifier derived from colza oil), Honey, Virgin Hemp Oil, Coconut Oil, Vegetable Glycerine, Hydrolized Silk, Citrus Essences, Fragrance, Optiphen (preservative), and LOVE!

The only questionable ingredient in this product is optiphen, which is a mixture of Phenoxyethanol and Caprylyl Glycol. Phenoxyethanol is widely used in natural products and prompted my series “Preservatives in Natural Products.” I don’t think this ingredient is cause for concern, but I’d still like more unbiased peer reviewed studies to fully deem this ingredient Safe!

.85 Globe

4.85/5 Globes

Nature’s Pulchritude All-Star!

Highly recommended!

Have you tried this product? What did you think?