Is That a Corn Cob In Your Pocket -- Or Are You Just Happy To See the Library?

Unlike the contents of a can of Pringles, this card is entirely made of corn
For a product that most often makes its way into San Francisco's attention span due to tortilla tossing, attacks on trans-fats, and, of course, unfortunate fecal jokes, corn is damn near ubiquitous. The good folks at Corn Products International boast you can use the tooth-jamming vegetable for everything "from fruit juices to frozen foods ... antibiotics to adhesives ... baked goods to beers ... paper to pet foods." Garrison Keillor, meanwhile, has declared sweet corn to be more pleasurable than sex.

And yet, no one has ever had the bright idea of making library cards out of corn -- until now. The San Francisco Public Library will start handing out compostable corn "EcoCards"; put that in your (corn cob) pipe and smoke it!

Our landfills are not overflowing with plastic library cards -- San Franciscans are neither that literate nor wasteful -- but, in an effort to be more environmentally responsible the library will next month kick off a test program featuring a run of 15,000 corn cards (the library usually hands out 60,000 cards yearly, so these may last a little while).

Fans of plastic need not despair -- you'll still have the option of getting regular cards (mine has crayon lightning drawn on it and was designed by a fourth-grader named Wing). But, if you agree to answer a few question over the next six months or so, the librarian will hand you the rather nondescript corn card.

"We want to know how it works in your wallet and what happens if it gets wet," says library spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers. Since the card is not laminated -- it wouldn't be compostable that way -- Jeffers isn't sure if sweat-inducing sprints to make the Muni will cause the corn card to chip and leave you smelling like the Frito Bandito.

She also notes that it would be counter-productive for eco-conscious San Franciscans to gleefully throw away their plastic cards so they can flaunt their "EcoCards." The newfangled devices will only be issued to first-time customers or those who have lost their old cards and are willing to pay for a new one.

Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions -- which now adhere to green building practices -- and well-meaning environmental moves don't always help. Sometimes, they even hurt.

To wit, Jeffers promised to get back to us on the following queries:

  • Where is the corn grown that these cards are produced from? Is it sustainably farmed, or are massive amounts of nasty pesticides and fertilizers involved?
  • How much energy does it take to create and transport these cards as opposed to the traditional cards? Moreover, is there a significant cost difference?
  • How many people can be realistically expected to compost a library card? Can it be composted by burying it in the backyard or, like "compostable plastic bags" does it require special conditions that can only be achieved in city-maintained compost piles?
  • How long must a corn card last to be energy effective compared with plastic cards that last until Kingdom Come?
  • If every San Franciscan simultaneously threw out his or her library card, how much space would it take up? More or less than a refrigerator?
  • Is an EcoCard strong enough to fit on a keychain like the plastic cards? And why can't I get cool kids' drawings on my EcoCard? 

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