Caring about the environment is patriotic.
June 30th, 2009
You haven’t really made it until you’ve been properly parodied, or so the saying goes. Well, congratulations, Green — you’ve officially hit the big time!
In all seriousness, though, this hilarious video from The Onion does draw attention to the ever-growing trend of greenwashing. It stands to reason that as environmental issues continue to seep their way into the consciousness of the American public, more and more companies will try to reposition themselves as eco-friendly in order to increase revenues, whether or not their products are, in fact, green.
The news last week of Starbucks’ plans to open “eco-friendly” stores, for example, begs the question of what it actually takes to justify slapping a green label on a company or product. Sure, the new store has rustic appeal, with a coffee bar and cabinets made from renewable materials, but until the company eliminates disposable cups and only offers sustainable coffee, I’m not sure it deserves that label.
Thanks to loyal RWG reader PL for passing along this video.
June 29th, 2009
Meatless Monday, which was started by The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as a way to encourage Americans to adopt a healthier diet, is now gaining traction globally as an environmental movement. Related efforts have taken off in Belgium and the UK (it always helps to have Sir Paul involved), and it seems that media coverage is picking up, as well: Both the The Washington Post and The Huffington Post feature MM articles today.
To keep pace, the MM site (the original one) has introduced a slew of new features: Visitors can now rate and comment on recipes, learn about in-season fruits and vegetables to incorporate into vegetarian recipes, and officially sign the pledge to go meatless on Mondays.
So, what’s for dinner tonight? It’s starting to heat up here in Southern California (although at a current 76 degrees, I really can’t complain), so I think it’ll be the perfect evening for my Fresh Summer Frittata, which is featured on today’s home page of the Meatless Monday site. While it is a hearty breakfast recipe, serve it at room temperature for the perfect light summer dinner to whip up when you’re too tired to really cook or at the end of a busy workday, which this one is shaping up to be with the publishing of my first article for The Huffington Post.
June 28th, 2009
In support of the National Health Care Day of Service, I spent this morning at the Hollywood Farmers Market, talking with people about reforming health care and why they support change (or don’t support it, but luckily those conversations were few and far between). Many were brave enough to share their personal stories on video camera, which will be sent to President Obama.
While most folks I spoke with agree that something has to be done to ensure adequate care for all Americans, many seemed misinformed as to what that actually means. The major fear voiced is that Obama is in favor of single-payer national health care, which is just not true. In addition to ensuring that no one can be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition, the administration is seeking reform that will allow you to choose your own doctor and health plan.
Read more about the administration’s plans at HealthReform.gov.
June 27th, 2009
Help raise awareness for the urgent need for health care reform by joining Organizing for America (OFA) and thousands of volunteers across the country in today’s National Health Care Day of Service.
Even if you don’t have a couple of hours to volunteer, you can stop by an event in your area to take advantage of free basic screenings; in my corner of Los Angeles alone, I counted three separate health fairs offering everything from cholesterol screening and HIV testing to exercise instruction and nutritional advice.
While today is the official day of service, there will be events going on all weekend. On Sunday, I’ll be at a local farmers market interviewing and videotaping people telling their health care stories, which will be sent to President Obama.
If you don’t have time to participate, you can still get involved from the convenience of your computer. Check out the incredibly moving Health Care Stories for America on the OFA website, where hundreds of thousands of people have written in to share their personal stories (including yours truly).
June 25th, 2009
As if there weren’t reasons enough to shop for produce at your local farmers market, here’s one more:
Fruits and vegetables shipped using large plastic pallets may be contaminated with the toxic flame retardant decabromodiphenyl ether (deca), due to a practice known as hydro-cooling.
In hydro-cooling, fruits and vegetables stacked in pallets are immersed in cold water in order to maintain their freshness and ward off dehydration during the shipping process. Whereas wooden pallets were once the standard in the food industry, this process wasn’t a problem; but as plastic pallets were introduced, because of the fire hazard they posed in the plants where they were made, manufacturers began adding deca to the pallets. Researchers believe that the flame retardant tends to “bleed,” so the concern is that chemical residue from the pallets can make its way onto the produce as it is submerged in the water.
While deca was originally thought to be a safer alternative to the long-since banned penta-bromine and octa-bromine, environmentalists and scientists have called this into question. Over three years ago, the American Chemical Society cited evidence that over time, deca can break down into more harmful forms; the Environmental Protection Agency considers the chemical to be a potential neurodevelopmental toxin.
What’s more, the fire retardant has not been approved by the FDA to be used in contact with food. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG),
Maine and Washington state have already passed legislation to limit the use of deca, while 10 other states have introduced bills to ban the chemical. Plastic pallets are now being used by General Mills, Borders Melon Company, PepsiCo, Cott, Okray Family Farms, and Martoni Farm, while Dole Foods and Kraft Foods are considering making the switch to plastic.
Wooden pallets, in addition to being free of toxic flame retardants, are also a better choice for the environment, since they are often made from recycled furniture and scrap lumber that would otherwise have been discarded. When the pallets are no longer usable, they can be recycled into mulch, firewood, or wood flooring.
The EWG is urging Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the federal Food and Drug Administration, to order the food industry to stop using plastic pallets made with deca. Read the letter sent today by the EWG.
June 22nd, 2009
Summer is prime moving time, and cleaning out all those closets and storage before you pack up can feel pretty therapeutic. But moving can also be stressful, so there’s often an urge to get rid of all that old junk in the easiest way possible. Those who are motivated and sales-savvy can raise a buck or two by selling primo items on Craigslist, but what do you do about those things that no one will buy?
Goodwill, of course, is always an option. But the last time I went to my local Goodwill and saw one lone worker trying to sort through mountains and mountains of unwanted junk, I had to wonder how much of it actually made it into the stores. Then I heard about Freecycle.
The Freecycle Network lets you find a home in your community for unwanted items that would otherwise end up in the landfill. It’s kind of like Craigslist, except that everything is by donation only. Now, I’m a Craigslist junkie — I seem to have the magic touch for determining precisely the right price point for items to sell like hot cakes — but even I was left with a few sad looking articles in my garage that refused to budge on Craigslist.
When I listed them on my local Freecycle network, however, I was awed at the response. Here is a community of thrifty, resourceful people who are truly grateful for the treasures they find via the network! In one week, I managed to find homes for my broken vacuum cleaner, a rubber exercise ball, pillows I had made for my old couch, and 150 unused bubble mailers.
In the instances I didn’t want to or have the time to meet the recipients face to face, we simply agreed upon a time and place for me to leave the item. Unfortunately in the case of my vacuum cleaner, this resulted in someone else swiping it before the guy I found on Freecycle was able to pick it up. (Oh, well — at least someone is using it now.) But for everyone else, I felt like some sort of fairy godmother. One young lady wrote me a particularly compelling email about how the exercise ball would help her weight-loss efforts.
I can’t help but feel that in some ways, the current recession is a good thing for the world at large, for it’s forcing people to recognize that we can no longer afford — both environmentally and economically — to live in a disposable society. In a land of plenty, why can’t one person’s trash always be another person’s treasure?
June 19th, 2009
Imagine a world without fish. So says the tagline for the powerful documentary The End of the Line, which opens today in theaters across the US. It’s not hyperbole, either. Scientists estimate that if overfishing continues at its current rate, we may see the end of seafood by 2048.
Click here for theaters/showtimes in your area.
June 18th, 2009
If recent news about diet soda being linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease isn’t enough reason to make you put down that Coke Zero, here’s one more: It turns out that artificial sweeteners may be making their way into our water supply.
According to researchers at the Water Technology Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, sewage treatment plants fall short in removing artificial sweeteners from waste water, resulting in the contamination of rivers and streams that receive water from the plants.
Of the seven artificial sweeteners they looked for, the researchers were able to detect four (acesulfame, saccharin, cyclamate, and sucralose) in water from two German sewage treatment plants. All are frequently used in the US, with the exception of cyclamate, which was banned in 1969. And while this study, along with one released last month that detected the same four sweeteners in groundwater near Zurich, took place overseas, one has to wonder if our waste water treatment methods are any better equipped to eliminate these chemicals.
Considering that pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, antidepressants, and sex hormones — have already found their way into the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, and given our seemingly unquenchable thirst (sorry) for diet soda (a whopping 59 percent of Americans consume diet soft drinks), it’s probable that we’re now sipping just a wee bit of Splenda with that glass of ice water.
But here’s what I want to know: Forget polluting the water, forget the possible implications for wildlife. Why would you want to drink a beverage filled with chemicals that never break down? Or maybe at this point you’re like, “Screw it, if I’m going to end up ingesting it anyway, I may as well enjoy my Tab.” I think you know which side I’m on.
June 17th, 2009
If nicotine and hormones can be delivered into your bloodstream via transdermal patch, it stands to reason that whatever you slap on your skin — lotion, deodorant, makeup — also makes its way into your system. Recent studies have shown this; last year, research published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that infants and toddlers exposed to baby lotions, shampoos, and powders carried high levels of phthalates in their bodies, industrial plasticizers that are hormonal disruptors and have been linked to developmental malformations in the male reproductive system.
It’s this concern that regularly sends me to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetic safety database, where you can search more than 41,000 personal care products for toxic chemicals and other health hazards. It was here that my mom first stumbled upon the Skin Free natural skin care line.
It’s not easy to find products in the EWG’s database that have an outstanding safety rating without sacrificing performance. Lord knows I’ve gone through months of horrid hair on my never-ending quest to find all-natural shampoo/conditioner that could even come close to replicating my beloved (but phthalate-laden) Pantene. But Skin Free’s products, the majority of which rank an absurdly low 0 out of 10 on the hazard scale (for comparison, consider that even products from Burt’s Bees are rated a 4), are not only an adequate substitute for conventional products — they’re even better.
The Skin Free line is, like its name suggests, free from almost everything you wouldn’t want to put in your body — harmful chemicals, perfumes, petroleum products, and colorants — and is particularly great for people with extremely dry skin as well as fragrance or skin allergies. (And don’t forget babies!)
My mom, who looks a good 10 years younger than her driver’s license would belie, swears by the Whipped Tamanu Body Butter for keeping wrinkles at bay, and slathers it from head to toe. Made from organic extra virgin olive oil, shea butter, and tamanu oil, which has been used for centuries by the Polynesians to heal everything from sunburns to major skin infections, the body butter is wonderful used as a daily moisturizer or to help heal eczema and sun-damaged skin.
I’m partial to the Super Moisture Body Balm, which has been responsible for the transformation of my scaly chicken legs into red carpet-worthy gleaming gams. I’ve never come across anything with the same luxurious texture; like a super creamy body oil, it melts right into your skin yet somehow lasts all day.
Another fave, the Naiouli Butter Stick, has been a godsend for my severely dry knuckles, which have become rather unsightly since moving to arrid Southern California. It comes in a handy Push Pop-esque container, and is small enough to throw in my purse or take with me on a plane for serious protection against single-digit humidity levels in the cabin.
For more wonderful products visit the Skin Free website, since I’ve only just scratched the surface here (but not my skin; thanks, Skin Free!).
June 16th, 2009
After my hair dryer broke last month, I contacted Remington customer service to inquire as to how to repair or recycle the dryer, and was met with the disturbing response that if the dryer was older than the two-year warranty, I should just throw it in the trash. Not satisfied with that answer, I set out on a mission to find some way — any way — to forfend a landfill fate for my dryer. Here’s what I uncovered.
Repair it yourself. While nearly every drugstore-variety hair dryer manufacturer I spoke with — Remington, Conair, and, ironically, Vidal Sassoon Ecostyle — offers neither repair service nor a recycling/take-back program, it’s actually relatively simple to repair one yourself. Essentially a heating element and a fan motor, a hair dryer isn’t complex machinery; sometimes a good internal cleaning is all that’s needed to get it running again. Not handy yourself? Ask a friend or family member who is to help you, or call it a “science project” and challenge your son or daughter to fix it. (Just make sure it’s unplugged first!) Here’s an easy-to-follow article to get you started.
Find an e-waste recycling event. When I first contacted the Department of Public Works (DPW) for LA County, I was informed that e-waste recycling only encompasses computers, printers, and cell phones. But after doing a little internet digging, lo and behold: a page on the DPW website that says hair dryers are, in fact, accepted at county-wide e-waste recycling events (I called the DPW again and spoke with a rep who confirmed this). If you live in LA County, click here for the e-waste collection event schedule, as well as a list of permanent collection centers. If you’re outside the LA area, Google “e-waste recycling” and the name of your city or town.
Next time, buy wisely. When I had my hair cut a few weeks ago, my stylist told me that many of the professional-grade hair dryer companies offer repair service. While these appliances are more expensive than your cheapo drugstore model (expect to pay upward of $100), you won’t have to buy a new one every two years. Solano, for instance, offers a two-year warranty on all its dryers that you can renew every two years, indefinitely. If your dryer breaks, you just send it off to the repair center, it’s fixed within two days, and the company even covers the cost of return shipping. “This keeps our dryers in the hands of stylists and out of the landfills,” states the website. That’s what I’ve been waiting to hear!