Category Archives: Biodegradable

Paper Mate Biodegradable Pens and Mechanical Pencils

Papermate biodegradable pens

I just got back from a walk in the park. It was a beautiful day and the walk was lovely, but I was a bit dismayed to see litter on the ground – especially plastic litter. That’s because plastic typically takes so long to decompose that the trash will be around for a long time, perhaps posing some danger to animals and certainly making the environment less attractive.

That’s why I was happy to see these new biodegradable pens from Paper Mate. I’m not encouraging anyone to litter, but it’s heartening to know that if someone does leave this pen in the great outdoors, at least the body of these pens is made from a corn-based material that can biodegrade in soil or compose within about one year (according to the manufacturer).

Even better, the pens come in recyclable paper packaging. And on the back of the package is a handy diagram showing how to disassemble the pen when it reaches the end of its useful life, which components should go in the trash and which can be composted.

It’s not often that you buy a product that specifically asks you to ‘dispose of these in yard soil or home compost’, but that’s the advice here from the manufacturer.

Plus it’s nice to know that the pen’s packaging is made from a renewable resource (corn) rather than from a petroleum base.

FYI, Paper Mate also makes a nifty biodegradable pencil.

In terms of quality, I have to say that I think these pens and pencils are very comfortable to hold and seem well built. They’re also affordable and attractive. In my opinion, the writing quality is even better than a more expensive (non-biodegradable) Parker pen that I bought recently.

Bravo to Paper Mate. I’d say this is a Green home run.

Where to Buy: sells 4-packs of the Paper Mate Biodegradable Pens for $6.99. You can also get a 2-pack for $3.59.

As for the mechanical pencils, you can find a 2-pack of those for $5.99 at Office Depot.

Disclaimer – Paper Mate did give me some biodegradable pens and pencils for testing purposes.


EconoGreen Plastics(TM) bags

Looking for an eco-friendly alternative to your typical plastic trash bag? Check out the line of EconoGreen Plastics bags (and dropcloths) from the whimsically named Jig-A-Loo company.

Jig-A-Loo claims the bags are made from 100% recycled plastic and that they will completely biodegrade leaving “no harmful residue or toxins” in about two years in the environment. (Traditional plastic bags might take up to 1,000 years to degrade in the environment, according to one source I found.)

For a good analysis of the pros and cons of biodegradable plastic bags, check out this article at

As far as I’m concerned, if you have a choice, it’s typically better to pick a product that’s made from recycled materials and biodegrades as quickly as possible. On both counts, EconoGreen Plastics bags seem to fit the bill.

Incidentally, the bags are also made in North America. For U.S. Consumers, that means fewer resources were used to transport the bags from point of manufacture to point of sale.

Where to Buy – Use the Store Locator on the Jig-A-Loo website to find a retail location near you. You can also buy through the Jig-A-Loo website ($3.99 for 30 tall kitchen bags).

Disclaimer – Jig-A-Loo sent me a free package of EconoGreen bags to review.

Favorite Products of 2009 — Epicurean Cutting Boards, Sylvania Living Spaces CFL bulbs, prAna Sutra Pant and much more!

Welcome to the second annual roundup of my favorite Green products I had a chance to review in 2009:

Cut on recycled cardboard? You betcha.

1. Epicurean Cutting Boards, particularly those made from recycled cardboard.

2. Sylvania Living Spaces CFL bulbs. Affordable bulbs offering the usual CFL energy savings with better-quality light. What’s not to like?

3. prAna’s tough but lightweight men’s Sutra Pant, woven from a combination of hemp and recycled PET. I have a feeling these pants will last for a long time. I’m pretty impressed with prAna’s total clothing line, which incorporates lots of bamboo, hemp and recycled fabric while using quality workmanship and cool designs.

4. Green Pieces affordable, biodegradable puzzles made from recycled paper and implanted with wildflower seeds. Great idea!

5. It wasn’t specifically marketed as a ‘green product’, but after six months of use I’m still super-impressed with the performance, size and especially the energy efficiency of my new desktop PC, the Compaq Presario CQ2009F. Of course, it was so affordable and efficient that Compaq discontinued it (grrrr…) but you can probably find similarly small and efficient PCs from various manufacturers now. If you’ve been using an older PC and you upgrade to one of these mini desktop machines, you could your computing energy usage by 60-70 percent!

The incredibly efficient GeoBulb-II is now much more affordable.

6. The incredibly energy-efficient GeoBulb-II LED light bulb. Using just 7.5 watts of electricity, the cool white version of the bulb is designed to deliver as much illumination as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. Note that the price of this bulb has dropped by 50% in just five months since I first reviewed this product. It’s now somewhat more affordable at $49.95. Meanwhile, the next generation GeoBulb-3 has hit the shelves, costing $99.95, but apparently using a tiny bit less energy (7 watts) to deliver more luminosity and last nearly twice as long (50,000 hours)!

7. A2B Electric Two-Wheeler. I rode several electric bikes in 2009. If price were no object, this is the one that I would buy. It was the most fun, the best-looking and offered the most comfortable ride. (If you look around a little, it seems like some dealers are now offering the A2B for a few hundred dollars under MSRP – i.e. around $2500.)

8. Reynolds Wrap 100% Recycled Aluminum Foil – works just as well as the non-recycled kind, but requires much less energy to produce and keeps trash out of landfills. Brilliant.

9. Soft, comfortable, durable and eco-friendly bamboo clothing from Ivee. For yoga, fitness or just lounging around, Ivee Bamboo Clothing has got you covered.

10. Dr. Oetker Organic Muffin Mix and If You Care unbleached baking cups. A muffin mix on the top 10 list? Oh yeah, these are some tasty eco-friendly muffins 🙂
And that’s all folks for 2009. Have a very merry holiday season and a wonderful New Year’s celebration. I’ll do my best to bring you reviews of lots more exciting Green products in 2010.

Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions for making this site better, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I welcome your ideas for making even better in the year ahead.

Thank you for reading and for caring.

– Aaron Dalton, Editor,

Ivee Bamboo Clothing

Sydney Bamboo Terry Pants in Grey available at

Sydney Bamboo Terry Pants in Grey available at

Why do I like bamboo?

According to multiple sources (1,2,3), bamboo is –

  • Ultrarenewable, one of the fastest-growing plants in the world
  • Good at preventing soil erosion
  • Easily dyed, with minimal water requirements
  • Very hardy, able to survive both drought and flood conditions
  • Able to grow with little water
  • 100% biodegradable
  • Naturally antibacterial

But while much bamboo clothing may be eco-friendly, it’s not automatically stylish.

Fortunately, Ivee clothing has used those soft, comfy, body-flattering bamboo threads in its hip, sexy yoga designs to create some mighty appealing pants, tunics, tees and hoodies.

One word of advice for shoppers – these clothes really do hug your curves!

My wife didn’t mind the snugness on her pair of Sydney Bamboo Pants ($110). In fact, she found them so comfortable that they moved into regular rotation as one of her favorite pants to wear for lounging around the house. She reported that quality was top-notch and the pants made it through a couple of washes in our industrial-strength apartment building washers and dryers looking good as new.

Kayla bamboo/cotton/spandex tunic available at

Kayla bamboo/cotton/spandex tunic available at

Meanwhile, I didn’t get a chance to check out the Kayla Tunic ($110) or Trinity Terry Hoodie ($112) in person, but the photos look like they’ll give anyone some sweet Matrix / Blade Runner ultramodern style.

Our only qualms – The price tags might make it hard to build an entire Ivee wardrobe. I understand that high-priced items sometimes seem intrinsically more desirable, but couldn’t Ivee have made its separates a little more affordable, particularly given the fact that they’re made in China (a country not exactly known for its exorbitant labor costs).

Where to Buy:

You can order items from Ivee’s bamboo clothing line directly through the website.

Offline, you can find Ivee clothes at selected retailers including the Sports Club LA (Boston, NYC, San Francisco), Salon Magrit (Palm Beach, FL), O2 Aspen, Dailey Method (West Coast) and Pacific Athletic Club (San Francisco and San Diego).

Disclosure – Ivee gave me a pair of pants to review.

Tidbits – SNO:LA organic frozen yogurt, ZT Rooibos Tea, Sentina LED lights, Earthworm cleaning products, Intercontinental Chicago O’Hare

Here are some recent eco-friendly product tidbits:

SNO:LA organic frozen yogurt - available in California and Japan

SNO:LA organic frozen yogurt - available in California and Japan

– Travelers (or residents) in Beverly Hills, California or Santa Monica can enjoy organic frozen yogurt made from all-natural ingredients (including probiotics) at SNO:LA. There’s also an outpost in Kyoto, Japan. The shops use eco-friendly decor and consider themselves ‘no-plastic-zones’ by choosing to use biodegradable/compostable materials such as sugar cane, corn and potatos for their cups and spoons.

ZT Rooibos Red Tea organic beverage

ZT Rooibos Red Tea organic beverage

ZT Rooibos Tea made from the South African rooibos plant is an all-natural beverage with organic ingredients like brown rice syrup and inulin (for fiber). Tasty, slightly sweet, low calorie and healthy, it’s an interesting and complex alternative to regular iced teas. (Note that rooibos teas a.k.a. red teas are herbal teas, different from the black, green, oolong and white teas that come from the Camellia sinensis plant.) The ZT website has an interesting explanation of the nutritional benefits of its rooibos teas. ZT’s teas are available in several flavors including vanilla, lemon and ginseng & honey, but I think the regular unsweetened variety is complex and interesting enough on its own. Available at various natural food stores nationwide including Whole Foods Market, ZT teas have an MSRP of $1.79 – $1.99 per 16-ounce bottle.

The Sentina Zen Light with motion and photo sensor uses only 3 watts of electricity

The Sentina Zen Light with motion and photo sensor uses only 3 watts of electricity

Datexx offers several appealing Sentina LED lighting products for the home. This family of emergency and safety lights include features such as a crank generator, motion sensor and power outage sensor. Cost for these lights is in the $30-45 range. As usual with LED lights, these products consume very little power (just 3 watts in the case of the Sentina Zen Light) and should last a long time.

Earthworm biodegradable cleaning products use enzymes to break down grease, dirt and other organic materials

Earthworm biodegradable cleaning products use enzymes to break down grease, dirt and other organic materials

Earthworm cleaning products use natural enzymes instead of harsh chemicals to clear drains, clean surfaces, remove odors and perform other household tasks. I didn’t have any luck using Earthworm to clear my own sink drain (it was a heavy-duty job that ultimately required a trained plumber), but you may have better luck if your drain is only a little bit slow or if you’re just looking for a maintenance solution to keep the drain running freely. Here’s a nice explanation of how enzymes work as cleaners. I do like the fact that Earthworm products are biodegradable and much safer for humans and other animals than traditional harsh chemical cleaners.

– The new Intercontinental hotel at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport provides an eco-friendly option for travelers to the Second City. The hotel purchases its energy through 100% renewable wind energy credits, uses CFL and LED bulbs throughout the property, places recycling bins in guest rooms to reduce the waste stream and offers guests water packaged in biodegradable bottles. A green roof covered with trays containing three inches of soil plus wheat grass and sedum helps slash cooling costs and should last 2-3 times as long as a typical industrial roof. Rates for November start around $225/night during the week or just $127/night on weekends according to the hotel’s website.

Disclosure – ZT Rooibos and Earthworm provided me with a complimentary product samples for testing purposes.

Bamboo Tornado pen by Retro 51

Bamboo Tornado™ pen by Retro 51

Bamboo Tornado™ pen by Retro 51

Super convenient but environmentally problematic, plastic is a difficult material to eliminate from our lives because it is so ubiquitous.

Why even bother trying to reduce our plastic use? Apparently, both the manufacture and disposal of common plastics involves the use or release of chemicals that are harmful to both the environment and humans.

Also, while plastic is useful precisely because it is durable, this durability makes it resistant to biodegradation. As a result, it tends to stick around for a very long time, mucking up the oceans and clogging landfills. You may not be able to see the effects of the hormone disrupting plasticizers with the naked eye, but anyone can see the lasting impact of plastic on the environment from the clutter of plastic trash that accumulates and persists beside highways and in urban gutters.

Still, as mentioned, it’s hard to get rid of plastic. The computer on which I am typing is encased in plastic. So is my TV, my stereo, the bottles of cleaning products across the room, the suitcase by the doorway.

And even if I were writing this post on paper, I’d most likely be writing with a plastic pen — although hopefully a pen made at least from recycled plastic.

But today I have a new option – a pen with a barrel made from solid bamboo. The Bamboo Tornado™ by Retro 51 is not only a beautiful writing instrument, it’s made from an incredibly fast-growing renewable and biodegradable plant resource.

(The only place that Retro 51 obviously fails from a Green standpoint is with the Bamboo Tornado’s packaging. There’s no indication that the handsome box is made from recycled paper and it’s hard to believe that the foam insert holding the pen securely in place is made from eco-friendly materials either…)

What’s more, Retro 51 says it will make a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation to save 250 square feet of rainforest for every Bamboo Tornado pen sold. According to the Retro 51 website, the company has already helped Arbor Day Foundation save more than 1.6 million square feet of rainforest, saving valuable and endangered habitats.

Now the impact of one pen might not seem like a lot, but consider that humans use billions of pens every year. All that plastic — or all that rainforest – can really add up.

Also, unlike with many disposable pens, the Bamboo Tornado (like other Retro 51 Tornado products) is refillable. Which means one pen and the bamboo from which it is made should last a long time.

Where to Buy:

Check the Retro 51 website to find a Bamboo Tornado (MSRP $40) dealer near you.

You can also find the Bamboo Tornado online at websites like Barnes & Noble ($35.95) and ($39.99).

Disclosure – Retro 51 provided me with a complimentary Bamboo Tornado pen to test and review.

Marcal Small Steps and CVS Earth Essentials paper products

Marcal Earth Essentials line of household products made from recycled paper

Marcal Earth Essentials line of household products made from recycled paper

Back in March, I talked about the importance of buying recycled paper products in order to save old growth trees. I wrote about some available options including Green Forest, Earth Friendly and Seventh Generation.

Recently I’ve had a chance to try some additional recycled paper products from Marcal and CVS. Based on my experience both brands, I think there’s no logical reason for an eco-conscious consumer to keep buying non-recycled paper products.

Even a few years ago, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy with the quality of recycled paper products. I remember one time buying brown recycled paper towels that pretty much disintegrated on contact with water. It was a long time before I bought another roll of recycled paper towels.

But both the CVS Earth Essentials brand of paper towels and Marcal Small Steps perform comparably to plenty of their non-recycled counterparts. (Sure, they don’t have the softness and strength of premium paper towels like Viva, but for a disposable paper product, I’ll happily accept a little less durability and aesthetics in exchange for a major improvement in eco-friendliness.)

One thing to keep in mind is that the percentage of recycled material and the percentage of post-consumer recycled material can differ among brands and even within brands when looking at different types of products.

CVS Earth Essentials 100% recycled fiber paper towels

CVS Earth Essentials 100% recycled fiber paper towels

So, for example, both Earth Essentials and Small Steps paper towels are labeled as having 100% recycled content, but the Earth Essentials towels say that they have a minimum of 60% post-consumer content, while the Small Steps towels don’t list the percentage of post-consumer content. (A Greenpeace report says that both Small Steps paper towels and paper napkins actually have an impressive 70% percent post-consumer content, but then notes that Small Steps facial tissues only have 30% post-consumer content.)

How do the products perform in real life? As noted above, both Earth Essentials and Small Steps towels get the job done in competent fashion. They even look pretty much identical – white (but not blinding white thanks to their avoidance of chlorine bleaching) with a heart-shaped design. Under close examination, the Earth Essentials towels seem a little bit more substantial, but the difference is slight. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with either paper towel (or with the 365 brand recycled paper towels from Whole Foods Market, which contain 80% post-consumer recycled paper content according to their packaging and the Greenpeace report cited earlier).

I also had a chance to test the Small Steps napkins (excellent, but packaged in way too much heavy-duty plastic) and the Small Steps facial tissues (not luxurious, but perfectly acceptable if you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of nasal pampering in order to save trees).

By the way, Marcal may be making such good recycled paper products thanks to a wealth of expertise gathered over more than 50 years of producing recycled products. A Marcal spokesperson says that Marcal products have been 100% recovered fiber/recycled paper for more than a half century.

The fact is that buying recycled paper products should no longer be seen as a sacrifice. As with other eco-friendly products, the cost and performance is often the same or even better than with non-recycled products.

As a side note, CVS is using some other interesting materials in its Earth Essentials brand. You can now buy disposable plates and bowls made from bagasse – the pulp or residue left over from sugarcane processing.

The unbleached bagasse plates and bowls in the Earth Essentials collection are more sturdy and aesthetically pleasing than many traditional paper plates/bowls. In fact, I’d say they are comparable in sturdiness to disposable plastic plates and bowls, with bagasse having the added advantages of being microwavable, biodegradable and resistant to both oil and water. Depending on what you put in them, you may even be able to rinse and reuse the bagasse plates and bowls a couple of times.

By the way, as I mentioned in my review of the Staples bagasse notebook last year, bagasse paper products have a delightful smoothness to them. I hope that more companies will consider replacing some of their paper pulp products with bagasse in the near future.

Where to Buy:

You can find some of the CVS Earth Essentials products at The Earth Essentials paper towels were recently on sale with three rolls for $1.99. Bagasse plates and bowls have an MSRP of $2.50 for packs of 15.

If you don’t see what you’re looking for online (I couldn’t find the bagasse plates and bowls), try visiting a CVS store near you.

Marcal says that its Small Steps products will be sold at Walgreens and Kmart stores nationwide, but that not all stores had the products in stock when we checked a few months ago. To be safe, use the Store Finder to find a retailer near you selling the Marcal Small Steps recycled paper products.