Cool, Clear Water Not So Simple


April 8th, 2013

 

The cold, deep, fast running water is the healthiest as it harbors the fewest bad bugs and bacteria.

Hello Eco- Mom!
Please explain to me why leaving water running is bad! Fresh water is a limited resource; how does running it and using it end up ruining the fresh water?!
Love, Your Daughter

Hello Wonderful, Curious Daughter,
In order for water to get to your faucet it must first:

  1. Be pumped from  sewers, storm drains, resevoirs to a water treatment plant. Pumping takes lots of electricity
  2. That water must be filtered, stirred (again more electricity) and treated (lots of not so nice chemicals)
  3. Bad stuff from filtering must be lifted out, transported somewhere (more electricity and gasoline to transport to waste disposal site)
  4. Good treated water must again be pumped from the plant all around the city through the water mains (again more electricity)
  5. If you’ve used hot water, there is also the natural gas or electricity used to heat that water that is just going down the drain to no good purpose


20% of energy in the US is used just to pump, clean and filter water. Even if you pour clean water back into the drain it gets mixed up with the dirty stuff and has to be re-pumped and re-cleaned endlessly.

Love,
Eco-Mom

PS. Here’s a wonderful design concept to clean your water at home.

 

Our Clothing Addiction Leads to Cycle of Poverty in Developing World


April 8th, 2013

Clothing contributes to poverty in two ways.

  • First, new clothing is sewn predominantly in sweatshops around the world, often by women that are permanently enslaved to pay off a “debt” for the “privilege” of a “well paying” job – NOT.
  • Second, the used clothing business has effectively destroyed native garment industries in much of Africa and other developing countries. American cotton is so highly subsidized that our used clothing can be purchased more cheaply by them than those made with native fabrics and sewn by native seamstresses.

 

“T-Shirt Travels”is a documentary that should make us think twice about the easy fix. If you don’t have time to read the entire article or want to explain it easily to students here is a quick visual. Over time many of the links are disappearing; here is one for the book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy” The movie Life and Debt tells of the Free Trade Zone in Jamaica where workers who sew for American corporations to earn the legal minimum wage of $30 U.S./week. Sweatshops, with the approval of their governments, offer incentives to foreign clothing designers which are allowed to bring in shiploads of material tax-free and are immediately transported out after sewing. Over 10,000 women currently work under sub-standard work conditions. In order to ensure the employment offered, Jamaica agreed to the stipulation that no unionization is permitted in the Free Trade Zones. When the women attempt to organize they are fired and blacklisted to prevent them from working again. The jobs move on to next developing country desperate for work.

 

A new book Fugitive Denim: a Human and Sensible Approach of Global Textile Trade by Rachel Louise Snyder tells part of the complex story of the textile trade, now & historically, acquired by traveling around the world and talking to workers and professionals in the trade. United Students Against Sweatshops at 25 universities are now boycotting or severing ties with Russell Athletics/Jerzees until the company re-opens the Jerzees de Honduras facility at full capacity, re-hires all union workers and complete the collective bargaining process. Also, individual initiatives such as Ethix Merch attempt to link small manufacturers with buyers.

 

Americans consider ourselves to be generous people as we assuage our guilt about buying new clothing by giving away our slightly worn or out of date cast offs to charity but the net effect is a global economy turned upside down. What to do?

  • Worn thin? Goodwill or Salvation Army will turn into rags.
  • Stained? Sew or iron a patch, applique. Tie die the garment – stains get lost in the patterns. Missing buttons, open seams, broken zippers? Fix yourself, or take it to your dry cleaners or find a local seamstress/tailor. Keeps Americans employed at decent wages. If you’re crafty, here are ideas for recycling old Tees .
  • Gained/lost weight? Style dated?  A good tailor can take in or let out seams and can even re-fashion professional clothing to reflect current fashion trends
  • Just itching for a change or something different? Look for clothing swaps online or plan an event with friends

If you must buy new, search out  items made of organic or sustainably harvested fabrics by fairly paid and treated workers.  This 2013FairTradeDirectory has links to many online ethically traded clothing items. Be willing to pay more for both American /union/Fair Trade made goods.

The fashion industry itself is just discovering Zero Waste and trying to apply it to the cutting room floor. Parsons New School for design will offer a course in zero waste.

Ethical doesn’t have to mean giving up style. Ethical In Style will send you the latest trends daily via FB or Twitter.

Sustaining our Food Chain & Our Sanity


January 8th, 2013

A furtive meandering email forward about Chinese vegetables, Pacific Rim seafood, poop as nutrients & American jobs going overseas  got me to doing  a lot of research on food chains, food safety, sustainability & food ethics. A lot of territory, and this does not presume to be complete, but here goes.

It’s a lot of work but basically, caveat emptor, read the labels on every food product you buy, their sourcing may change from month to month. Consider writing  an email to companies when you decide not to buy a product because the the origin or production values of the product. Buy foods in season. Off season foods come from far away places. Maybe you should  be eating pomegranetes not strawberries in December.  Processed foods are always a sourcing, and disclosure, nightmare, an example:

In the NutriGrain bar, the list of sources and ingredients is as follows:
•    USA: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, wheat flour (produced and milled), whole grain oats, sunflower oil, strawberry puree, cellulose, red dye #40;
•    China: vitamin and mineral supplements (B1, B2, iron, folic acid), honey;
•    Philippines: carrageenan;
•    India: guar gum;
•    Europe: citric acid;
•    Denmark: lecithin (soy);
•    Italy: malic acid; and
•    Scotland: sodium alginate.

 “The 2002 Farm Bill and the 2008 Farm Bill amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require that retailers inform consumers of the country of origin of all perishable agricultural commodities beginning September 30, 2008…” per this excellent full article.

What this really means is re-thinking your budget putting a priority on paying for organic, sustainably raised foods and making as much of your food from scratch as possible. They are better for both your body and the planet’s health.  Are you willing to buy fewer clothes (or movie tickets, or tech gadgets) to have more quality & control in your foods?

When choosing imported foods consider the carbon impact from shipping. East Coasters are actually using less carbon when you choose European (wine, olive oil, fruits, seafood ) over California grown because sea shipping is more energy efficient than trucking) , Mexico (even we Californians now get most of our tomatoes from Mexico, the big farms are pretty attuned to US standards), Canada.  West Coast folks cause less transportation CO2 by buying from the Pacific Rim countries if we can’t get it from Mexico or western Canada. Though I enjoy the European and South American Wines, I generally buy California wines. If I’m traveling I always look for local fare & wines.

Just as we cannot categorize all US food as good or bad, we must make the same distinctions within other countries. There are honest and unethical people around the world. QVD Aqualculture out of Bellevue WA provides farmed fish from the US, Vietnam & Singapore and you will be impressed by their standards & certifications  .

FDA  has a lot of seafood inspections but can’t possibly inspect everything. China is the only entire county on their seafood watchlist.

A great seafood guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium includes guides for different regions of the US see:   Print a copy and keep it in your purse or with your coupons.

There is a HUGE difference between Chinese veggies for the US/Canada frozen market & Chinese seafood, meat & products grown for their internal markets.

“ Farmland is communally owned, so a foreign business, often working with a Chinese agent, will approach a village council and propose a farming arrangement. After a community vote, the entire village contracts with the company to supply the agricultural product. The farmers agree to use the seeds and other inputs the foreign company provides… export crops are part of a separate food system. .. vegetables headed abroad are monitored along the food chain: farmers grow the organic vegetables on plots of land that are often less than an acre, then bring the harvest, usually by hand-pulled cart, to a company processing plant, where it is inspected. Plant employees.. wash and prepare the vegetables—all by hand. Before leaving the factory, the vegetables are put through a double metal detector. …“The Chinese are super careful,” echoed Rozelle. The vegetables destined for foreign supermarkets are inspected by government employees before they leave the country. “They know if they get to the port and find residues, it will be rejected.”   

Overseas trade is a huge balancing act. Depending on US markets for the wellbeing of the Chinese population certainly keeps them from extreme military measures; slowly their population is becoming consumers who will begin to be their own best customers.

The Cinnamon Challenge – How Much is Healthy, How Much is Safe?


June 21st, 2012

Looking for sustainably & ethically harvested Ceylon cinnamon? Enjoy the photos and stories of  La Cannelle plantation.

 

Cinnamon has several health benefits, a  source of manganese, fiber, iron and calcium. It’s believed to help with anti-clotting abilities, help stabilize sugar levels for those with Type 2 diabetes, lower bad cholesterol, and fight infections.

 

There are two kinds of cinnamon, but product labels do not usually identify the type. Cassia, “common” cinnamon, usually from China, is redder, stronger in flavor, and cheaper. Ceylon (from Sri Lanka, Vietnam) or “true” cinnamon is a pale tan color; it is milder, sweeter, and more expensive than cassia.

 

Ceylon cinnamon sticks are tight rolls of thin layers; cassia sticks are hollow tubes of thicker, rougher, bark. They are generally ground into powders.

 

Not sure which type of cinnamon to use for your food? Penzeys offers a helpful guide.

 

CINNAMON AS ALLERGEN

Cinnamon also contains as essential oil called cinnamal, which can act as an allergen in a fair amount of people. Those who are allergic to cinnamon can suffer from contact dermatitis. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, cinnamon can also cause a severe allergic reaction that can lead to anaphylactic shock. We can only hope that someone who knows they are allergic to cinnamon would politely decline the challenge; but for someone who wasn’t aware of the existence or severity of an allergy, the results could be … challenging.”

 

CINNAMON AS NATURAL TOXIN & PESTICIDE.

On the plus side, cinnamon can be used as a natural pesticide known to be unkind to mosquito larvae, moths and ants … and most famously, rats.

Cinnamaldehyde is the organic compound that gives the spice its flavor but,  used in concentration,  is a pesticide and fungicide that causes internal hemorrhage & death.  EPA warns of acute dermal toxicity; acute oral toxicity; eye irritation; dermal irritation and dermal sensitization. When cooking, use recommended portions.

 

CINNAMON AS MEDICATION.

Cinnamon contain substantial amounts of coumarin (also present in the tonka bean, from which it’s name came, and other plants).  Coumarin is better known by its trademarked name, Coumadin, an anti-coagulant used to keep blood from clotting. Although coumarin itself has no anticoagulant properties, it is transformed into the natural anticoagulant dicoumarol by a number of species of fungi. Eating cinnamon, by itself, will not help your heart disease.

 

Coumarin is a possibly carcinogenic substance that can cause liver inflammation and can affect blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. In people who are sensitive, coumarin might cause or worsen liver disease.

Ground cinnamon can lead to a bronchial constriction that can be life threatening. For anyone suffering from asthma or COPD, this can be very serious.

 

Cassia cinnamon contains .5% coumarin. Due to concerns about the possible effects of coumarin, several years ago the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment warned against consuming large amounts of Cassia cinnamon. One teaspoon of cinnamon powder contains may be above the Tolerable Daily Intake for smaller individuals.

 

Ceylon contains only .0004% coumarin and is unlikely to be problematic. If you enjoy cinnamon but are at risk, consider cooking with Ceylon.


Water Math: Pools v Lawns v Xeriscaping


May 10th, 2012

I was thinking about how I could save more water at the sink, then thought:
QUESTION:  how much water evaporates from an uncovered pool?
ANSWER: 200-300 gallons per WEEK (Marin MWD). In Redwood City, that would cost
about $12-15/mo (but our rates are scheduled to increase soon)  and that’s before splash replacement, what people and dogs drip out. An older pool with leaks could increase that evaporation many times over.

Surprisingly, most evaporation occurs in autumn when water temperatures are
high and air temperatures are cold (especially at night).

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_much_water_evaporates_from_a_pool

You can eliminate 80% of evaporation with a pool cover.

A lawn v pool study for Sacramento (much hotter & dryer than Redwood City)  figures that a pool still uses less water than a lawn.

A lawn the size of a pool uses 4,270 gals divided by 748 gal/unit = 5.71
units X $6.2/unit =$35/mo to water a swimming pool-sized piece of grass.

http://www.homeownernet.com/pools/swpools.html

So… 1) don’t swap out your pool for a lawn

2) Cover your pool when not in use

3) If you’re eliminating the pool (pool maintenance is getting pricey) replace it with native and drought tolerant plantings that don’t require much water after they have been established.

Sustainably Yours,

PaxDonnaVerde

I’m recycling more, Why is my trash bill going up?


March 14th, 2012

Closed 1970’s landfill still pollutes this creek in Angola NY

Unfortunately there are few financial incentives for responsible curbside recycling. ZeroWaste is a complex whorl of economic, social and environmental incentives and penalties involving citizens, governments and businesses.

For profits (and some non-profits) have stripped off many of the profitable ends of the business:

  • Waste collection services (WasteManagement, BFI, etc)
  • Waste metal management for large pieces and valuable metals (from the jeweler & dentist to the auto junkyard)
  • Landfills
  • Glass, bottles, cans, cardboard: the reason scavenging in your recycling is discouraged is because your city tries to keep you costs down by selling these. Your city competes with individuals who take them to recycling centers. No easy answers here, many people make ends meet using these strategies.
  • E-waste – stripped down for precious and recyclable metals
  • Concrete
  • Wood and other separable construction waste

 

What is left in municipal waste landfills is the dregs, that has no market and is expensive to maintain with toxic barriers – sadly, the contents of landfills are the most environmentally destructive:

  • Styrofoams, black plastics, non-conforming plastics found predominantly in food containers & wrappings, electronic items shipped from overseas
  • Packaging – wrappers from chips, candy
  • Toxic items – against the law but people do it anyway
  • Mixed material content items, for example:
    • metal shovel w/wooden handle
    • many toys
  • Electronic appliances, tools, toys
  • Plant matter that is difficult to compost – cactus & bamboo
  • Recyclable/compostable materials that some folks are too lazy or unable to separate – milk cartons with attached plastic caps

Did you know that for every one trash can  of non-recyclables that you put in front of your house  that 71 have been put out in the manufacture of the contents of your trash?

That being said, in many cities, business trash has been subsidizing residential trash. Business complains, resident rates rise.

Social Costs:

  • One stream trash systems and single barrel street recycling are less efficient – we lose things such as high-grade white paper that could be recycled in to copy paper (that’s why it’s become more expensive). Hard-core recyclers are rabid because recycling efforts are dumbed down.
  • On the flip side, much more is recycled overall because more residents are compliant
  • Legislators are stuck in the middle trying to please both types of constituents, no one is fully happy.

The only “financial” incentive that I can think of is that your garbage costs would be even higher if you did not recycle. You may force your government to try it out but you may not be happy with the results.

How to change things? Find ways to change or legislate disposal/manufacture of items that typically fill up landfill waste. Make noise at town council meetings, join a committee, talk to your family, friends and neighbors.

Practice the 6 Rs of Zero Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Repair, ReUse, Recycle, Regulate.

Going Solar: How going off-grid can and can’t help


February 13th, 2012

We installed solar electric in July 2007 in Northern California. When you install solar in PG&E territory you change from a residential customer to a commercial producer and receive a monthly accounting. As days become shorter and colder we use more electricity and we’re starting to eat into our summer surplus. Next July will tell if we properly projected our usage and size of our system. Real Goods Solar  (then operating as Marin Solar) did our installation and we are extraordinarily pleased with their service and work. We used Sunpower panels which, at the time, were the most efficient panels available.

Being an accountant, a cost-benefit analysis was a must. Being house rich and cash poor we took out a HELOC loan to pay for the system but our monthly payments are equal to our previous average electric bill. The previous 3 years electric bills increased annually an average of 12% so, just keeping the monthly payment the same  for the next 20 years will protect us from energy inflation.

Many of the Federal & State tax credits which allowed us an affordable system are no longer be offered but at least one utility CEO has gone on record as projecting that your own solar will be cheaper than the grid between 2014 and 2016 due to decreasing PV costs

I’ve been considering a solar battery charger to keep those pesky batteries on cell phones, iPods & cameras on ready call. Some research though is making me reconsider. The jury is still out on this decision.

Update, July 2011: PG&E, calculated our year-end discrepancy and we owed the equivalent of one to 1-1/2 month’s bill to them at year-end. This is mainly because much of the family decided that “since we have solar, it doesn’t matter how much electricity we use” – NOT! All being said, I think we calculated our optimal usage and number of panels appropriately. As the children move out of the house we should be able to run a surplus and sell back to PG&E under California Public Utilities Commission ruling on Net Energy Metering (NEM) .

We’re looking into solar thermal (hot water).  I understand it, there is great variation on recommended systems depending on what part of the country that you live in so read this \”Homeowners Perspective\”, based in the San Francisco Bay area, with that in mind. Search out solar hot water information based in your local area for the best info for you.

Sustainably Spicy


December 30th, 2011

One thing that still remains in my brain from calculus is that the smaller the container, the higher the ratio of container to contents. Once upon a time I could calculate the most cost and weight efficient sized can – who said calculus has no real world applications?

Herb & spice containers jars are low on the container-to-contents sustainability scale. That being said, spices can last many years and they often come in lovely shaped jars and cans. I could not bring myself to throw out the darling A&P spice cans,  a  favorite wedding-shower gift appropriate for newlyweds on a tight budget. I am quite thrilled that there are now so many options for re-filling these containers and the choices are usually less expensive, as well.

Penzey’s (some stores & online) offers 4, 8 and 16 oz bags of their spices with discounts for the larger bags (again less packaging per oz of spice) plastic bags can be recycled at your grocer with other bags; foodies appreciate their quality and wide variety.

Whole Foods and some health grocers offer the Spicely line of boxed (totally bio-degradeable paper & cellophane) spices that fit perfectly in your jars ;(they also donate a % of sales to a children’s charity). Ethnic groceries and the international aisles in the supers offer authentic bagged spices at excellent prices.

Looking for sustainably & ethically harvested Ceylon cinnamon? Enjoy the photos and stories of  La Cannelle plantation.

Sea salt is all we use in our house both because of reduced sodium content and variety of flavors including an option to go local with Pacific sea salt. Celtic Sea Salt was at the San Francisco Green Festival where they offered a special on their salt grinder with purchase of salt.

I’m blessed to live in a climate where I can harvest fresh rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme and bay leaf year round – also blessed that they are hardy as I am not the most attentive gardener.

Organic Food for Thought


December 27th, 2011

My daughter sent me an image of a factory spouting smoke with the tagline ” Explain to future generations that it was good for the economy when they can’t farm the land, breathe the air and drink the water”

“Americans from coast to coast are living with the human health and environmental costs of factory farms that cram together thousands of animals in filth conditions… producing huge quantities of manure that taint local water supplies and air quality. Consumers…end up eating meat, poultry and dairy products loaded with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and artificial hormones”  – Food and Water Watch. See the online map of farm factories near your water supply.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is Everywhere, including your toilet paper


December 21st, 2011

That nice shiny paper that most receipts are printed on? BPA (or BPF) is likely-as-not an ingredient. We slip those recieipts in next to our currency in our wallets, slide our hands over them countless times as we rummage through our purses, pick them up to enter them in Quicken, then one more time to file, trash or shred them.

“When people talk about polycarbonate bottles, they talk about nanogram quantities of BPA [leaching out],” John C. Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry observes observed about carbonless copy papers when he worked at Polaroid. “The average cash register receipt that’s out there and uses the BPA technology will have 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA.” By free, he explains, it’s not bound into a polymer, like the BPA in polycarbonates. It’s just the individual molecules loose and ready for uptake.”

But thats not the end. Those duplicate check records? Carbonless credit card receipts? What if you’re a cashier handling them all day? Touched some food after handling the receipt? Ouch! Of course, many of us recycle those receipts, cool huh? Maybe not, it may be ending up in our recycled toilet paper. Is shredded thermal paper part of your composted fertilizer? Ooops.

Bill Van Den Brandt of Appleton papers point out that his company’s receipt paper (manufactured for NCR) is now BPA-free. This after after a lawsuit (NCR also named) for cleaning up PCB’s from the Fox River in Wisconsin) and subsequent change of ownership to employees.

“Attempts have been made to develop a thermal ink which reduces the problems associated with thermal papers by obviating the need to provide a thermal coating over the whole surface of the paper.” but this technology has not been perfected. I’ve got some receipts I can no longer read (though I really have no idea which technology was actually used).

Another option, the companies, TransactionTree, and AllEtronic emails a receipt to you (instantly) and you have 24 hour access to your receipts through their website. TransactionTree might also email you a retailer discount coupons & AllEtronic will soon have an iPhone app.

As worrisome as thermal printing paper is, the use of BPA in the packaging of many microwaveable convenience food products and canned  foods, is even more so.

The sticking point is actually figuring out which manufacturers still use the BPA method and which stores buy paper from which mfg; data still outstanding. In the meantime, be aware. Don’t put thermal receipts in your paper recycling (or compost). Consider the electronic options, if available. Educate the stores you frequent. Decrease your use of microwaved convenience foods.

BPA, BPF Thermographic Printing in EU