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The environmental impact of oatmeal

Bear Bibeault
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  66


OK, so I'm an old fart and my doctor has recommended that I eat a bowl of oatmeal every morning.

No problem, I buy good quality instant oatmeal that has a short ingredients list that is completely composed of words that are pronounceable. You know, words like oats, and flaxseed, and cane juice, and barley, and rye. And not words like polydextrose, and hydrogenated, and processed, and artificial.



It's actually quite yummy. I make a bowl every morning at the office to go with my morning coffee.

At first I was using microwave-safe paper bowls and plastic spoons. But then I saw this graphic on IFLS (the F stands for exactly what you might think it does, so caution may be required if clicking through in the workplace)



and it actually made an impression on me, so I started using a real spoon and washing it.

Then I felt bad about tossing a disposable bowl into the trash every day. The paper bowl is coated with a film of plastic that makes it stand up to wet food, so it's likely not recyclable, and likely not all that biodegradable. So I got this:



which is brilliant. The stay-cool plastic outer bowl makes it easy to carry and hold the very hot ceramic bowl containing the heated oatmeal.

So here I am happily eating my morning oatmeal with a clear conscience -- until it comes time for cleanup.

Anyone who's eaten oatmeal knows that, even if you try to clean the bowl right away, it hardens up into a cement that resists cleaning off the bowl more firmly than a ticked off cat that's got it teeth into your arm.



So here's my dilemma: cleaning the spoon and bowl takes a large quantity of water, detergent and scrubbing.

The scrubbing part, I supply in endless renewable quantities.

But water is at a premium here in drought-stricken Austin, and the amount of detergent going into the ecosystem is troubling.



So my question to the environmentally-minded: what's actually worse for the environment:
  • Using a real bowl and cleaning it afterwards?
  • Or throwing a paper bowl into the trash?

  • The spoon, I'm not worried about. It gets licked clean and is easy to wash. It's the bowl that's the issue.

    Or is there a 3rd alternative, short of eating the dry oatmeal right out of the packet, that I've overlooked?

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    Jayesh A Lalwani
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    Joined: Jan 17, 2008
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      28

    Get a biodegradable bowl and compost it. Turn it into a vegetable that you can use, or atleast return it back to the ground that it came from
    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    Jayesh A Lalwani wrote:Get a biodegradable bowl and compost it. Turn it into a vegetable that you can use, or atleast return it back to the ground that it came from


    Got a source? And my concern would be that it would turn into mush in the microwave. The oatmeal gets pretty hot after being heated for 2 and a half minutes.
    Jayesh A Lalwani
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      28

    Hmm I didn;t think of that. The paper bowls that I have used stand up to heating a bowl of rice or a dish with gravy. It does degrade a little bit and some paper gets into the food. DOn;t think too much about it However, oatmeal does get pretty hot. Not sure if it will stand up to oatmeal
    Amit Ghorpade
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        6

    Since this is MD, I get to suggest putting an aluminum foil in the ceramic bowl and then throw the foil when done.
    Be ready with a fire extinguisher the moment you put the bowl in microwave.


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    Bear Bibeault
    Author and ninkuma
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      66

    Amit's microwave oven:

    Amit Ghorpade
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        6

    I thought the walls of the microwave shield the "electrocity" inside that that is why fire is caused.
    But its cool you came up with that pic in less than 5 minutes.
    Jayesh A Lalwani
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      28

    Yes, burn down the house, and you will never eat oatmeal again. Problem solved!

    Whoa!! in the image, you see the reflection of the "sparks" on the toaster. How did you do that?

    Steve Luke
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    Joined: Jan 28, 2003
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      21

    Amit Ghorpade wrote:But its cool you came up with that pic in less than 5 minutes.

    Bear is an image machine, he has an image for everything... all at is fingertips (I think he has many fingers).

    Anywho, I have no experience with it, but GreenPaperProducts.com has free samples that include microwavable compostable bowls. You might give them a try and let us know how it went.


    Steve
    Amit Ghorpade
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        6

    Jayesh A Lalwani wrote:Whoa!! in the image, you see the reflection of the "sparks" on the toaster. How did you do that?

    Simply by faking them ;). Look carefully, those aren't real reflections.
    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    Jayesh A Lalwani wrote:How did you do that?

    I cannot take credit for the image. It's one I found.
    vishal saha
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    Bear Bibeault wrote: It's one I found.

    hope. no modification ;-) . i know your skill
    fred rosenberger
    lowercase baba
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      16

    You're not licking the bowl clean?


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    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    It's a deep bowl -- my face doesn't fit.
    Jayesh A Lalwani
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      28

    Isnt' that what the beard is for?
    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    A beard is good for many things.

    vishal saha
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    Bear Bibeault wrote:It's a deep bowl -- my face doesn't fit.

    Jayesh A Lalwani wrote:Isnt' that what the beard is for?


    humorous guys

    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    Steve Luke wrote:but GreenPaperProducts.com has free samples that include microwavable compostable bowls. You might give them a try and let us know how it went.

    Samples ordered. Thanks for the link.
    Martin Vajsar
    Sheriff

    Joined: Aug 22, 2010
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      60

    Bear Bibeault wrote:
    Anyone who's eaten oatmeal knows that, even if you try to clean the bowl right away, it hardens up into a cement that resists cleaning off the bowl more firmly than a ticked off cat that's got it teeth into your arm.

    [md]
    Well, the semiconductor industry uses hydrogen fluoride to deal with similar problems. Plus, it might eventually turn even your ceramic bowl degradable.

    And oatmeal is rich in calcium, which helps a lot if you manage to spill the hydrogen fluoride over yourself. It's a win-win situation!
    [/md]
    Amit Ghorpade
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        6

    Bear Bibeault wrote:It's a deep bowl -- my face doesn't fit.

    You should try inverting the bowl and gravity do its work.
    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    Trust me, gravity is no match for the cementing power of oatmeal!
    Saurabh Pillai
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    Joined: Sep 12, 2008
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    If I can't clean it right after I finish, I fill it with water and leave it for say an hour and after that I can clean it with ease. This works well for my rice vessel and many other things. Probably may not work for office environment.

    I understand your concern but then where do you draw a line between comfort and environment-friendly? Should I use Styrofoam cup or mug for coffee, water? Should I travel in my car or use public transport? Same for dishwashers.

    I don't think there can be clear black or white answer.

    Jelle Klap
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        7

    You could just quickly rinse the bowl when you're done eating, so the leftovers don't get the chance to turn to cement
    I love oatmeal too!


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    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    Jelle Klap wrote:You could just quickly rinse the bowl when you're done eating, so the leftovers don't get the chance to turn to cement

    Tried that -- it's already cement by the time I finish. No wonder it's good for fiber!
    Paul Anilprem
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        7
    Bear Bibeault wrote:
    Jelle Klap wrote:You could just quickly rinse the bowl when you're done eating, so the leftovers don't get the chance to turn to cement

    Tried that -- it's already cement by the time I finish. No wonder it's good for fiber!

    That is indeed surprising. I eat oatmeal often and do the same thing - rinse the bowl lightly and throw it in the dishwasher (usually in the morning), which I run nightly. Never had a problem.


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    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    No dishwasher at the office. Maybe I just eat too slowly? By the time I finish, there's a ring of oatmeal goo around the side of the bowl that's stuck like glue.

    How could such a simple breakfast cause such unbridled angst!?

    (I am of course, jesting.)

    Paul Anilprem
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        7
    Bear Bibeault wrote:No dishwasher at the office. Maybe I just eat too slowly? By the time I finish, there's a ring of oatmeal goo around the side of the bowl that's stuck like glue.

    How could such a simple breakfast cause such unbridled angst!?

    (I am of, jesting.)


    Oh, sorry I missed the no dishwater part. Yes, that could be tough. May be leave it there full of water, come next day, and reuse it I see people leave their tea/coffee cups with special cleaning solution overnight to remove the stains. Oatmeal bowl should be easier than that.
    Jayesh A Lalwani
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      28

    He wants to save water too!
    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    Jayesh A Lalwani wrote:He wants to save water too!


    Indeed. To take this topic to a more serious note, here's a photo of a tiny corner of Lake Travis.



    The normal water level is to the top of the cliff at the brush line. That's a lot of "missing" water. It's about 40 feet below normal level.

    Here's what used to be the Pedernales River:

    Bill Clar
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    Joined: Sep 21, 2006
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    Compromise.

    Reuse a paper bowl for the week and discard it on Friday. The caked on oatmeal may soften up when you heat up a new batch.

    Good post though. I use a plastic fork and I'm now going to bring in a metal one and clean it.
    Chan Ag
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      15
    Reuse a paper bowl for the week and discard it on Friday.


    yuckkkkkssss.

    Have you tried doing it? Seriously? Or did you forget to put the exclamation mark/emoticons?

    By the way, how often do you see your doctor?
    Bill Clar
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    Chan Ag wrote:
    yuckkkkkssss.

    Have you tried doing it? Seriously? Or did you forget to put the exclamation mark/emoticons?


    I do it every week. I reuse a plastic tupperware container to house my "delicious" blend of black-eye peas, brown rice, and coconut oil. Hot sauce helps. ...A lot

    I rinse it out every day but I don't scrub it. I toss it in the dishwasher on the weekend.

    Chan Ag wrote:
    By the way, how often do you see your doctor?


    Enough to know that I'm physically healthy. Mentally healthy is a different story.
    Chan Ag
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      15
    I think eating softened version of left over caked oatmeal from the previous day is really unhealthy. In the climatic conditions of my country, there'd be all sorts of micro organisms doing god knows what with that left over oatmeal.

    May be you rinse it too well or may be eating left over caked food is not harmful in the climatic conditions of your country or may be it just works with ya...

    I'd never do it.

    As for cleaning the plastic oatmeal container at work, I keep a vessel cleaning liquid detergent bottle in my cabinet ( Yes, I do that! I keep a lot of other healthy foods too cause I feel hungry after every few hours :-)). After eating the oatmeal, I rinse the container with warm water, then put a few drops of the detergent along with warm water again into it, and then rinse the container again after I'm done with a couple of emails. My oatmeal container never smells.

    Chan.



    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Another option would be to eat breakfast AT HOME. Then you can have the bowl soak for hours.


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    Bear Bibeault
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      66

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Another option would be to eat breakfast AT HOME. Then you can have the bowl soak for hours.

    Now that's just crazy talk!
    Jayesh A Lalwani
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      28

    Actually just to add another datapoint. Making rolled oats in a ceramic bowl doesn't leave sticky residue. I make these for my kid every weekend, and the bowl can usually be hand washed

    Steve Luke
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      21

    Bear Bibeault wrote:
    Steve Luke wrote:but GreenPaperProducts.com has free samples that include microwavable compostable bowls. You might give them a try and let us know how it went.

    Samples ordered. Thanks for the link.


    Have you had a chance to come to a verdict on this? Where they any good? Curious about this now myself, for similar reasons...
    Bear Bibeault
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    Actually, yes. I asked for a couple of sample bowls and spoons, and I was impressed.

    The bowls held up well to the oatmeal, without getting sodden or flimsy. How well they actually compost I cannot say. They do have verbiage along the lines of "breaks down in 2 months under ideal composting conditions" -- so no telling how long they really take to break down.

    I still feel bad about tossing stuff in the trash, so I'm still using my ceramic bowl, and I found a corner of counter I can put it in while it soaks (without bogarting the sink for everyone else).
    Paul Clapham
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        8

    "Ideal composting conditions" probably doesn't mean the conditions which exist in your back-yard composter, if you have one. Back when "compostable" plastic packaging was introduced I threw some into my backyard compost bin and got the stuff back intact a couple of years later. But if Austin has a city composting program in which they collect compostable stuff along with your garbage, your bowls might well qualify for that.
     
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    subject: The environmental impact of oatmeal