Friday, September 28, 2012

Arsenic, mmm!

Why is it that every time I turn around I am hearing about some chemical they found in the food supply in exorbitant amounts? Not only are they finding it, they are finding it in amounts that are more than likely harmful.

Let’s take for example the recent findings of Arsenic, the non-organic form, found in rice and rice containing foods. Consumer reports found extremely high levels even in Organic infant rice cereals. Arsenic. A known category 1 carcinogen. Did you know the EPA recommends levels no higher than 5 parts per billion (ppb) in our drinking water? They settled for 10 ppb though since most states wouldn’t adopt a level that strict. So, now we see that our foods have levels anywhere from none to over 960ppb. Even my son’s infant organic rice cereal was found to have levels between 149ppb and 274ppb. Why?

Here is the link to the story, and here is the link to the report.  There is a good reason for it, we are told. You see, Chicken farm concentrations in the United States happen to be in the same areas of the country as our rice farms. (Yea, I didn’t know we grew rice in the US either.) But, what is happening is this: The chicken farmers feed the chickens feed that is laced with Arsenic because it prevents certain diseases. Arsenic is excreted from the chickens. The farmers take the waste and make it into fertilizer for the rice farmers to use. The rice farmers are applying this fertilizer in huge amounts. Lastly, because of the way rice grows in flooded fields, it allows for easier absorption of the substance.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that they not only have found alarming levels in rice, but they have found high levels in fruit juices too. The same report I linked to above refers to this study as well.
Considering I heard on NPR this morning that 1 in 3 women will get cancer in their lifetime, I think this should be something we are paying more attention to. Maybe we shouldn’t be focusing so many of our efforts on the treatments of Cancer but on the preventative efforts like keeping chemicals out of our food. I’m switching off rice completely in the meantime though.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sweeping the Nation

It’s hard to believe that there are places in this country with no recycling options available to them. It seems to me that recycling is a basic service. It should exist everywhere, and sometimes it seems like it is everywhere.

Open up the newspaper and you read about plastic bag recycling programs, electronics recycling programs coming to your area, Terracycle programs starting up, and of course new curbside recycling programs. Why then, with all of this publicity, are there so many counties and towns without any recycling options?

Current data suggests that curbside recycling serves half of the U.S. population. Another third of the population is suggested to be served by drop-off recycling facilities. While nearly 86% of Americans have access at the curb or within 10 miles of their home, we still see the nation’s recycling rate is stuck at 31 to 34% depending on whose numbers you use. We aren’t the best recyclers in the world, believe it or not.  We aren’t even second best. How about third, fourth, fifth? Nope. Would you believe seventh among developed countries? Creating 4-7 pounds of waste per person per day, we have a lot of room for improvement. Hey, maybe we can start with providing recycling nationwide? Maybe, too, the recycling programs are the same, no matter where you go. This would take a lot of the confusion out of it, that’s for sure. And confusion about what is acceptable is a leading cause of people not recycling.

Consider this image that many of us have seen before.  Roughly 40% of our waste materials are recyclable in typical curbside or drop-off programs. Another 24% is readily compostable, and many of the textiles that make up 8% are reusable, or recyclable. This gives us 72% of our waste that is recyclable or readily compostable.

Without doing too much math, I would think that if all of the people in the 86% of the population with recycling available to them were recycling and composting just 50% of that 72% we could increase our diversion rate tremendously.
Let’s start a movement! If you don’t have acceptable recycling options in your area, contact your local officials, get a petition going, and show your local government that residents do care and are committed to using resources responsibly.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Humans have lived on this plant for thousands of years, and for much of it, very harmoniously with the surrounding ecosystems. Wildlife is an important part of our ecosystem and the key to our ability to live on this planet. Still, most people don’t understand our dependence on nature and how we affect the balance of these systems.

There is a campaign going on right now, and actually has been an ongoing battle for years now, regarding the Safe Chemicals Act before congress. The League of Conservation Voters is running a campaign to try to get congress to pass the Safe Chemicals Act which will force chemical companies to provide safety and health information prior to a chemical being released on the market in our everyday products. As it stands right now, the Toxic Substances Control Act doesn’t do enough to keep us safe and the EPA doesn’t have information it needs to determine if chemicals pose a health risk or not. Thousands of chemicals enter our beauty, hygiene, and everyday cleaning products that are not tested for their health and safety risks.

Even with all of the press related to rising levels of many diseases, cancers, and other illnesses, nothing is getting done, and it doesn’t stop with human life. Consider these recent articles. One from a couple of weeks ago regarding an EPA approved pesticide to kill birds. Then, another article appeared a week later about the EPA allowing overheated water from power plants to be released into our waterways. Read these articles and glean what you will, but I look at them and see an agency who is dysfunctional. On one hand they tell companies not to release air pollutants because of bird and tree effects, and on the other they are permitting chemicals specifically to kill birds, and allowing the killings of marine life due to extreme temperatures of water ecosystems.

Again, these are big problems with far-reaching influences and both positive and negative consequences. The EPA is a large agency with many departments and I am sure there is a lot of “one hand not knowing what the other is doing” going on there. But, we need to act on these issues and fix the seemingly broken agency and the obviously broken regulations.  

A few baby steps for the beginner:

1. Sign the online petition on the LCV website. You don’t have to call and talk to anyone and you don’t have to attend a big protest rally. Easy. 

2. Make the switch to organic products with no chemicals or compounds you can’t pronounce. The simpler the ingredients list- the better, is my rule of thumb. Easy. Try Method products, Tom’s of Maine products and Seventh Generation. All great in my book!

Again, I don’t claim to be completely switched over from chemicals but, I try. And that always counts for something right? What do you find is the hardest item(s) to change?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Curb Cash

I don’t think there is a week that goes by that either I or my husband aren’t finding money on the ground or something on the curb that someone threw out that has plenty of use and value left in it.

I know a lot of people don’t think much of dropping a penny and therefore don’t bother to pick it up. But, when you find 2 to 10 cents every day it adds up in the piggy bank. What about finding more than that? My husband and I were on a walk and he found a folded up $20 bill on the ground. When I was little I found a folded up $100 bill on the ground in Chicago. This is nothing to scoff at.

When the money you find is not actual dollars and cents, it can turn out even better for you. How? Who reading this has gone dumpster diving or curb diving or found themselves being an alley-wookie (thanks for the term, Star Wars loving friend of mine)? These things people throw out can have a lot of value to you or someone else. And I don’t just mean by selling the scrap metals.

Here is a list of items my husband in particular has found on curbs, in dumpsters during student move-out, and elsewhere.

-          Dollars upon dollars of change and folded cash

-          Brand new bottles of cleaning products and new boxes of aluminum foil

-          Cut and ready to burn firewood (we haven’t had to buy firewood in years to fuel our backyard get together events)

-          Desks (yes that is plural)

-          Tables and chairs, side tables, and other furniture]

-          Expensive china, still in the box!

-          Live plants

-          Old house parts like doors, hardware, trim, fireplace covers, claw foot tubs, marble sinks, and other hard to find and expensive architectural treasures.

This is by no means a complete list but you see what I mean? All of these things have value and do not belong in landfills. Many of these things, if you don’t need them, you can donate to places like Goodwill, Salvation Army, Old House Society, and thrift stores. You can even get a tax write off for donating these things. Or, have a yard sale.

It will never cease to amaze me how much people will throw away without thinking twice about it. I know we have become a throw- away society but are we also a lazy society? Do we not value things as much as we used to? I remember my grandmother sewing on numerous buttons and sewing up small holes in clothing. Do people do that now or do these clothes go in the trash? I don’t claim to know anything about sewing but I know a good tailor that does, and that has saved me a lot of money.

So, it all comes back to money. This all goes to show that being environmentally responsible isn’t going to hurt your pocketbook, but can actually help it. Maybe now my husband will have some competition out there while scanning the curb for treasures!