Q What containers are safe to use to transport lunches (given that glass may not be practical), and can they be heated?
A Carting your lunch to work used to be a yawn. Put leftovers in container. Haul container to desk. Eat. Now we're wringing our hands and biting our nails about which vessel is safe enough for last night's spaghetti. Let me just say that I applaud those who bring their own food to the job instead of woofing off styrofoam every day. High five.
And while I'm on the subject of takeout, let me throw in another friendly reminder about bringing Tupperware to your favourite takeout joint. I dare all you Ecoholic readers to try it next time you head to a food court or fast food counter. You might even hear encouraging phrases from the cashier like "If only all our customers did this."
But back to your question. Which food storage system is safest? If you really don't want to cart glass with you, I recommend anything made with #5 plastic. It hasn't been found to leach any nasties. And though it can't be recycled in Toronto, you'll be reusing it for years. Still, you never know what scientists will find in plastics down the road. They used to say clear, hard polycarbonate (#7) plastic was safe. Sigh.
I have to say I have a deep distrust of putting plastics in microwaves, no matter what those microwave-safe labels say. If you're dead set on reheating your food despite concerns about zap-induced nutrient-loss, reach for glass. Canadian Tire carries tons of shatter-resistant, microwaveable glass food containers of all shapes and sizes, including an 8-piece set for $25. And they come with microwavable lids.
Q Is buying high-octane gas better for the environment?
A We've already moaned and groaned about the dubious benefits of ethanol and biodiesel, but no one's talking octane, so let's. Does paying more at the pump for higher-octane fuel help the planet?
Octane is basically a rating of how quickly fuel burns. The higher the rating, the slower it burns. Sounds good if you think a slower burn equals lower fuel consumption, but that's not really the case. Even the greenest of the Big Oil companies in Canada, Sunoco, lays out the benefits of its super-octane Ultra 94 fuel as straight sports-car-lover stuff: it maximizes engine performance, boosts horsepower and speeds acceleration. Essentially, high-octane is better for tearing a strip off the street. Of course, speed bursts and added horsepower are also synonymous with something else: serious gas guzzling.
Then you've got to consider what's making it high-octane. Back in the day, tetra-ethyl lead was added to bump octane levels. But we all know what happens when a whole nation uses leaded gasoline and we've all got a little lead in our bloodstreams to prove it.
But unleaded gas contains another winner, neurotoxic MMT. The compound has been banned from gas pumps in the U.S. and Europe for decades, but when Canada tried to do the same in 1995, the maker of MMT sued the pants off us under NAFTA. Ah, the joys of "free trade." In an idiotic case of tit for tat, the Canuck manufacturer of another nasty octane-revver (MTBE) turned around and sued California after it banned that carcinogen in 99.
Even leaning on ethanol blends to boost octane, as we do, is not without controversy. (See www.nowtoronto.com/minisites/ecoholic for April's column on biofuels.)
But don't take this tree hugger's word for it. The Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. says people are throwing way too much cash at high-octane gas, thinking it improves their car's "performance." The FTC says, and I quote: "Using a higher-octane gasoline than your owner's manual recommends offers absolutely no benefit. It won't make your car perform better, go faster, get better mileage or run cleaner."
The FTC goes on to say that unless a car's engine is making knocking sounds, "buying higher-octane gasoline is a waste of money." Damn, that's refreshingly blunt for a government website. Even the occasional light knocking doesn't call for an upgrade, says the FTC, but don't ignore severe pinging.
The short answer? If the car's manual doesn't stipulate higher-octane fuel, don't waste your cash . It's certainly not doing the planet any good.