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  1. What is E-waste? E-waste stands for electronic waste. This includes anything from discarded and broken cell phones, computers, iPods, and small appliances. Developed nations are dealing with a crisis of overconsumption, which produces many harmful consequences. One of these consequences is e-waste, which is created when electronic products are thrown away. Unfortunately, the production, consumption and ultimate disposal of e-waste is sped up with planned obsolescence, when products are intentionally designed to have a short lifespan—they either break quickly and cannot be repaired inexpensively, or new versions are continually being designed to replace older ones. With the technology available to us, products can be designed to last for decades, if not longer. However, things seem to be lasting for less and less time. This is all in the name of profit, benefitting corporations that want consumers to keep buying products. According to Greenpeace USA, the average lifespan of computers in developed countries has dropped from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005, and mobile phones have a lifecycle of less than two years in developed countries. But the dangers don’t come solely from the waste itself; even more severe problems occur when the waste is broken apart. When e-waste is disposed of, it is often sent overseas where people in struggling developing nations take apart the products to recycle the e-waste and attempt to salvage parts with any value. Some recycling companies that appear to be reputable engage in this careless practice as well. North America and Europe are known to export a large percentage of their e-waste to countries like India, China, and Ghana. In the process of taking apart the electronics, these overseas workers are exposed to dangerous toxins, putting themselves, their families and their environment at risk. These toxins include heavy metals such as lead, beryllium and mercury, as well as chlorinated solvents, flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These are all deadly chemicals. Why should people in developing countries have to pay for the greed of our wasteful consumer society? What can you do about E-waste? Rethink the amount of electronics you buy: don’t buy a new cell phone just because your contract expires and you can get the newest version that everyone else is getting. Also, look into getting your small appliances repaired before buying new ones. Reduce, re-use and recycle, in that order. Remember that no matter what advertising tells us, things don’t make us happy. When you do have to get rid of electronics, recycle them with reputable companies. You can also contact the company where your product came from in the first place, and ask them if they have a take-back program. Always ask the recycling depot or company if they send the electronics overseas. If they don’t give a clear answer, choose somewhere else. Or, do some research and check with environmental organizations that would be able to direct you to a recycling depot in your area. Support groups that are against e-waste. Recently, students from Simon Fraser University have formed a group to ban e-waste on campus. With plans to make an educational documentary to raise awareness of e-waste, teach people where they can safely recycle their electronics, challenge the amount of electronic waste people produce, and create an “E-waste Day†at SFU, the group is determined to tackle the issue of e-waste. To support them, join the Facebook group “Stop E-waste at SFUâ€, and follow the blog http://e-waste2011.blogspot.com/, which they update with their weekly progress, and you can find links to educational resources on e-waste and recycling depots around Vancouver. Photo credit: Greenpeace India
  2. Photo credit: yearofthegurl In my last post about giving green gifts, I suggested homemade bodycare products as a great gift. As an update to that, here are some recipes and suggestions to help get you started! The wonderful thing about making your own products is that you know exactly what goes into them. Unlike typical commercially produced cosmetics that boast a list of ingredients a mile long (if they even list their ingredients), you can be 100% sure that your homemade products are natural, non-toxic and safe. Plus, they can work just as well as mainstream products. You can also opt for organic and local ingredients whenever possible, making them even more environmentally-friendly. I’ve kept these recipes very open so you can experiment, use your favourite scents, and discover your preferences. Another great thing about homemade products is that you can modify them to suit your own needs—some people like a thick body butter, while others like a light lotion. Using the same ingredients in varying amounts, you can make either kind. Likewise, you can use essential oils to create your favourite scents to create a product perfect for you! Not sure where to start? For something feminine try rose, vanilla or jasmine. Lavender and chamomile are wildly known to be relaxing, while mandarin orange, grapefruit and peppermint are very energizing. Feeling adventurous? Try patchouli, bergamot or cinnamon. Easy Products Lip Balm Lip balm is much easier to make than you’d think. Start with a harder base, such as beeswax. (You can find beeswax in pre-cut pellets or a block that you can grate yourself.) You’ll also need softer oils, like a combination of sweet almond oil and coconut oil. I prefer a harder lip balm, so I use two parts beeswax with one part softer oils. You can experiment to get the consistency you like. Combine the beeswax and oils in a microwave-safe glass bowl. Add a couple drops of vitamin E oil. This helps moisturize lips and will act as a natural preservative. Heat the combination in the microwave until the beeswax is fully melted. The mixture should be liquid. Add a few drops of any essential oils you like, such as vanilla, peppermint or rose. Pour into a container and wait until dry. Bath Salts This recipe is about as easy as they come! Just combine equal parts Epsom salts and sea salt in a large bowl, and add any essential oils you like for scent. My favourite is lavender, and I like to add dried lavender flowers as well. Mix well and store in a glass jar away from any moisture. Bath Bomb Combine equal amounts baking soda and citric acid into a large bowl. Add a small amount of cornstarch to the bowl and mix with a spoon. For instance, if you used ½ cup baking soda and ½ cup citric acid, you would add ¼ cup cornstarch. Add just enough sweet almond oil (or any other light vegetable or nut oil) so the mixture will hold together. Add a few drops of your favourite essential oils for scent. You can also add dried lavender flowers or rose petals. Mix everything together. Put the mixture into moulds (such as silicone muffin trays) and let dry for a day. When they’re dry, they should easily pop out of the moulds. Be careful with the bath bombs—they’re delicate! Deodorant Powder Like the bath salts, this recipe is extremely simple. Just combine equal parts baking soda and cornstarch with any essential oils you like and store in a shallow glass container. The baking soda neutralizes odor and the cornstarch absorbs moisture. To apply, use a makeup brush to dust a fine layer of the deodorant onto your underarms. One-Ingredient Miracle Products If you’re recipe-challenged or just plain lazy, these one-ingredient products are for you! Cornstarch Oil-Be-Gone Face Powder: For those who get shiny, oily faces during the course of the day, dusting a little cornstarch on your face with a makeup brush really helps. It can be used on its own or in combination with your regular face powder. Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil can be used to treat anything from lice to foot fungus, but my favourite use is to combat acne. Just apply a drop to a pimple at bedtime and it should clear up overnight. Aloe Vera All-Purpose Gel: Aloe vera is a plant known for its soothing and healing properties on the skin. It’s great on cuts and scrapes, blisters, sunburns, rashes, and even razor burn after shaving your legs. You can buy aloe vera gel from a drugstore or health food store. Even better, go to a plant store or nursery, buy a small plant and put it in your bathroom. Just break off a leaf whenever you need to use some and apply the gel inside the leaf. Vitamin E Oil: Vitamin E is great for reducing the appearance of scars and moisturizing your skin. Tea Facial Toner: Tea is a mild astringent and is packed with antioxidants so it makes a great toner. Green tea is a great choice, and if you have oily skin, chamomile is even better. Just brew up an extra-strong batch and store in the fridge in a glass bottle. To apply, use a cotton ball or a clean cloth. Clay Masks: Clay comes in different kinds (green, gray and white) for different skin types (oily, normal/combination and dry/sensitive). It can be purchased at any health food store. Combined with a little water, clay makes excellent facial masks. Where to go shopping Your local grocery store should have ingredients like cornstarch, Epsom salt, sea salt, tea, and baking soda. Check out the bulk section for less packaging. Also, be sure to read the labels and get only natural products. For instance, sea salt can come with many additives, such as anti-caking agents. You want your bodycare products to be as pure and natural as possible so avoid additives. For more specialized ingredients like beeswax, essential oils and citric acid, check out a health food store, farmer’s market or vitamin retailer. If they don’t have something in stock, they may be able to order it for you. Containers One of the great things about making your own products is the amount of unnecessary packaging you can save. There are a few options for finding containers for your products: Re-use glass containers you have now. Any face creams or lip balms in glass containers can be cleaned out and sterilized by boiling them for three minutes in a pot on the stove. If you’re doing this, be careful—the glass gets very hot so don’t touch it with your hands. Use regular safety techniques when you’re boiling the jars. Also, never boil the plastic or tin lids, only the pure glass. Although some people do this, I don’t recommend reusing plastic containers because over time they can’t be cleaned properly and the plastic can break down. You want everything to be as sterile as possible. If you are going to re-use plastic, make sure it’s a number 2, 4 or 5 plastic. Number 1 plastic is only meant to be used once, and numbers 3, 6 and 7 have various health concerns. If you don’t have any containers to re-use, check out drugstores, specialty cooking stores and even dollar stores to find some good containers. Always wash them first!
  3. Photo credit: alancleaver_2000 Is it too early to start thinking about Christmas? I think not. If you plan early and do a little research, green alternatives aren’t hard to find; there’s something eco-friendly out there for everyone on your list. Top 10 Green Gifts 1. Homemade Bodycare Products For the: makeup lover, spa junkie, or anyone who could use a little pampering Why it’s Green: There are tons of natural beauty products out there, but why not kick it up a notch and make your own? You can make this present as green as you want it to be! Generally, homemade products are free from toxins and dangerous ingredients because you use pure, simple ingredients like essential oils and skin care oils like almond, olive or grapeseed. Using baking tools you already have at home, plus some simple ingredients, you can create countless products. You can also clean and re-use glass packaging from old bodycare products (which saves money and packaging) and use organic and local ingredients whenever possible. Why they’ll love it: You can personalize these products to make something perfect for that special someone. Use essential oils to create their favourite scents (such as rose, citrus or vanilla) and keep in mind their skin type (oily, dry) to create a unique product that they can’t find on the shelf. There are tons of great recipes online. 2. Tools to Refuse Plastic For the: friend who’s always on-the-go Why it’s Green: Saving non-recyclable, toxic food containers and wrappers from contaminating our environment and ending up in the oceans—how can this not be green? I’m not just talking about stainless steel water bottles and travel mugs here: everything from chopsticks, cutlery, stainless steel drinking straws, cloth napkins and glass or stainless steel food containers are a must if you’re always on-the-go and don’t have time for a sit-down meal with real cutlery and dishes. If you’re armed with these tools on hand, you can easily refuse the disposable plastic that’s always forced on consumers. Why they’ll love it: Now that they’re becoming more popular, stainless steel water bottles and travel mugs come in stylish designs that will please even the most reluctant environmentalist-in-training. 3. Refillable Pen For the: student, business professional or creative writer Why it’s Green: Instead of throwing out hundreds of pens and wasting plastic, investing in one reusable high-quality pen that will last forever is significantly better for the environment. Why they’ll love it: Not only is this gift environmentally-friendly, a serious writer or student will appreciate how much more professional and beautiful a high-quality pen looks. 4. Natural Rubber Yoga Mat For the: yoga and fitness enthusiast Why it’s Green: With yoga becoming so popular, we should re-evaluate the typical yoga mats being used. Regular yoga mats are made from PVC, a toxic plastic that has been labelled a carcinogen. Available online, natural rubber yoga mats are the natural alternative to synthetic mats. They’re plastic-free, non-toxic and biodegradable and they work just as well as their PVC cousins. Why they’ll love it: Chances are, anyone who practises yoga is doing so as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Knowing that you’re breathing in toxins during Downward Facing Dog isn’t a pleasant idea. 5. Hot Air Popper For the: foodie Why it’s Green: Did you know that microwave popcorn bags are lined with toxic non-stick coatings? Yes, even organic microwave popcorn. Plus, the vast majority of microwave popcorn is genetically modified and loaded with trans fat and salt. The hot air popper is an old idea that is ready for a comeback. Depending on which kind you get, they can be a little pricey, but avoiding toxins is well worth the investment. Plus, they’re so much more fun to use. Why they’ll love it: Everyone loves popcorn! Pair it with some organic hot cocoa and a movie, and you’ve got the perfect remedy for a cold winter night. 6. Gardening Supplies For the: friend with a green thumb Why it’s Green: Growing your own food is one of the greenest (and healthiest) things you can do. Help out your favourite gardener by giving stylish gardening gloves, hand-held tools, beautiful ceramic pots, a watering can and other supplies from you local gardening/landscaping store. Why they’ll love it: Sure it’s not the season yet, but we can dream about the sunshine, can’t we? 7. Hemp Clothing For the: fashionista Why it’s Green: Organic cotton and bamboo are great, but you’ve got to hand it to hemp as the winner of the best eco-friendly fabric. It’s durable, comfortable, naturally resistant to mold and mildew, and doesn’t require chemicals to grow compared to cotton. It’s even strong enough to act as a vegetarian alternative for wallets, purses, bags, belts and shoes. Why they’ll love it: It’s fashionable! They’ll have no idea it’s hemp until they look at the tag. Check out The Hempest (http://store.hempest.com/catalog/) for some great pieces. 8. Indoor Plants For the: homeowner Why it’s Green: Unlike some gifts where you’re looking for a “better†alternative, plants are perfectly environmentally-friendly on their own! Not only do they add oxygen to the air, but they clean the air of indoor toxins too. For a sophisticated look, choose a bamboo plant, an exotic palm or a cactus. For the more traditional friend, flowers or ivy work well. Small evergreens are also perfect for this time of year. Why they’ll love it: They’ll make any room look stylish and cheerful. There are lots of varieties that need virtually no water, so it’s not too much to care for them. Plus, they can be transferred outdoors if they ever get too big. 9. Gift Certificate for a yoga lesson, photography workshop, cooking class, etc... For the: friend who has everything or the friend who refuses material gifts Why it’s Green: There’s nothing being produced, shipped or wasted here because it’s all about the experience instead of a material object. Why they’ll love it: They can do something they love, and you can do something together. There are countless possibilities: a craft, sport or dance they’ve always wanted to try, a massage, an event they’ve been hinting about, an annual pass to a museum... 10. Make-it-yourself Birdhouse and Birdfeeder For the: family with young kids Why it’s Green: Birdhouses can teach kids to love nature and care for animals at an early age. Plus, songbirds are in danger these days due to hungry neighbourhood cats, so they need all the help they can get! Why they’ll love it: Putting it together is a fun project that can be done as a family and watching winter birds take refuge in your backyard is definitely rewarding. Plus, the kids can spend some time outdoors instead of in front of the TV. If you decorate it, make sure you use natural, non-toxic paints! Top 10 Stocking Stuffers Take a trip to your local health food store and fill cloth gift bags with organic chocolate-covered fruit and nuts. Organic and Fair Trade Certified bulk tea and coffee are stocking stuffer classics with an eco-friendly twist! Natural beeswax or soy based candles are an eco-friendly alternative to paraffin-based candles with synthetic (and toxic) fragrances. Give small, medium and large lightweight drawstring cloth bags for produce and bulk food to the shopper in the family. While many people have swapped their plastic bags for reusable ones, produce and bulk bags are often overlooked. Washable, organic cotton or hemp bags are best. Organic cotton or hemp facial washcloths are a perfect companion to any natural bodycare products. Warm and cozy hats, scarves, socks and mittens made from organic cotton or non-dyed wool are perfect for the cold days (preferably from local vendors at craft fairs). Homemade natural and organic foods are so much better than store-bought! Give away jams and preserves (in bpa-free glass jars), cookies and baked goods and organic hot cocoa mix. Packets of organic vegetable or flower seeds will keep until spring when they can be planted. For the student, recycled pencils, notebooks and other environmentally-friendly supplies are useful and stylish. Make some homemade lip balms (see above for more information). Try a combination of peppermint and vanilla essential oils for a lip balm that smells and tastes like candy canes! Top Places to go shopping Skip the big box stores and find something unique and environmentally friendly: Winter farmers’ markets and craft sales: you’ll find one-of-a-kind gifts and local creations, and you’ll get to meet the people behind the products. Local artisan shops and boutiques: like farmer’s markets and craft sales, you’ll find unique pieces of artwork that are locally made. Your local health food store: find specialty and organic foods, preferably with minimal packaging. Online: if you’re looking for something specific or don’t have many environmentally-friendly alternatives nearby, there are tons of green companies online that ship right to your door. Wait! What about wrapping paper? This isn’t as tough as it seems. My favourite (and free!) choice is newspaper, especially from the comics section. If you don’t have a subscription, there are tons of free dailies around that get recycled (or thrown out) every day. Snag some and re-use them. If you’re really trying to impress and newsprint won’t cut it for Grandma, reusable cloth bags of all sizes work well to wrap gifts. Opt for real fabrics (cotton or hemp) instead of reusable bags that look like cloth but are really made from synthetic materials and more plastic. As far as bows go, skip the cheap plastic ribbon. Reuse what you have and when you run out, use hemp twine, which can be saved and reused for gardening in the spring!
  4. Photo credit: {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester} What are genetically modified foods? Biotechnology covers a broad range of technological “advancements†in food. These include the production of herbicides and pesticides, the use of antibiotics in dairy and meat, and of course, genetically modified foods (Otero, 2008). Genetically modified food refers to food that has had its genetic structure altered in some way, such as by mixing genes of different organisms. Generally, this has been done to make a crop more efficient to produce, export and sell (Bakshi, 2003). Examples include making crops resistant to certain herbicides or pesticides, making food tougher and firmer to last during international shipping, and making crops that grow faster (Bakshi, 2003). What’s wrong with GMOs? Genetically modified food is shown to be very harmful. Increased serious food allergies (such as for soybeans and corn), heavy metal contamination, and antibiotic resistance are several examples of adverse health effects. Dr. Arpad Pusztai’s famous study determined that GM foods were toxic to mammals (see my article on the Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods). Mice that were fed a diet of GM foods became very ill (Bakshi, 2003). Interestingly, Pusztai’s research lost its funding from the British government (Bakshi, 2003). As well, GM foods are speculated to have less nutritional value than conventional, natural crops of the same kind (Bakshi, 2003). Lastly, most research that determined GM foods to be safe has been focused on one particular chemical at a time. That is, the combination of different chemicals (as they would appear in food) has mostly gone unexamined (Bakshi, 2003). These are the health effects of biotechnology, although they have many more problems, including the loss of biodiversity, and patents on plants and animals. As Greenpeace states, “Life is not a commodity†(http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/campaigns/ge/). Additionally, the infamous terminator seeds are plants that are bioengineered to produce sterile seeds. This means that farmers cannot use the seeds to plant future crops in the upcoming years; new seeds must be purchased every year, leaving farmers dependent on biotechnology giants like Monsanto. Today, biotechnology corporations are some of the most powerful corporations in the world. How to avoid GM foods: The problem (as most of us know already) is that in North America, GMO foods are not labeled as genetically modified, as they are in Europe and other parts of the world. How, then, do we say “no†to GMO? Look for Non-GMO Product Certifications Since North American governments have failed to assure consumers about the safety of their food by labeling genetically modified products, individuals and organizations have taken it upon themselves to do this. The North American non-profit organization Non-GMO Project (http://www.nongmoproject.org/) has made a commitment to identify and locate products and companies that do not use any genetically modified ingredients. These include Nature’s Path Foods, Barbara’s Bakery, Choice Teas and Tofurky (meat alternatives). However, as mentioned, not all non-organic food is genetically modified. Non-organic companies that are still non-genetically modified include Kettle Chips, Silk (soy beverages), and Bragg’s soy sauce. The organization is relatively new, so the Non-GMO Project assures us that the certification will be available sometime this Fall. Better yet, the Project has named October as GMO-free month! In the meantime, check out their website and sign the consumer pledge (http://www.nongmoproject.org/consumers/consumer-pledge/) showing that you support their work and will purchase non-GMO products. Look for Certified Organic Generally, a good indicator of a GMO-free product is an organic certification. All products that are certified organic (meaning that it obeys the guidelines of a third party certifying body) must be non-genetically modified. Even this, however, can be difficult with multi-ingredient products. Tracking the sourcing of every ingredient can be tricky. Look for common GM ingredients When you’re in doubt, the most common genetically modified ingredients include corn, soy and canola. However, the situation becomes more difficult when these ingredients are hidden in other ingredients. Genetically modified corn, for instance, can be found in corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, and even maltodextrin. Because of these complexities, “it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store†(source: http://www.nongmoproject.org/consumers/about-gmos/). Take action Greenpeace’s website contains some excellent resources for consumers to take action against genetically modified food. Locate it here: http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/campaigns/ge/Get-involved/ and send letters to political representatives explaining your concerns and urging them to take action. Contact the Company A possible way to find out if your favourite food contains genetically modified ingredients is by contacting the company directly. The only problem with this is that the one who answers the emails may not be the one who sees the food production firsthand. From my own experience, I have received several responses that explain that it is difficult to track the production of the product, and therefore they don’t know for sure if biotechnology has been used. Is this an excuse to cover up known genetically modified ingredients? Is it a real example of how, when a company gets so large and decentralized, they no longer have full knowledge of the production process? Either way, it’s not ideal for the consumer.   Your best bet? Buy certified organic, buy products labeled as non-genetically modified, support genetically-modified labeling initiatives by donating, and contact your political representatives to send them a message.
  5. Does the individualization of environmentalism have any merits? Can it successfully co-exist with collective action? Environmental advertising (or “green†advertising) assures consumers that they can evoke positive environmental change by adopting simple habits and by purchasing green goods provided by companies (Maniates, 2001). These include wearing clothing made from sustainable fibres, consuming local and organic food, purchasing hybrid cars or choosing cosmetics made with natural ingredients. However, some environmental scholars such as Michael Maniates have criticized these actions as greenwashing which individualizes environmental problems. The tension at the heart of consumer culture is that it is a fragile system that cannot sustain itself indefinitely (Varey, 2001). The resources needed to extract, produce, transport, and advertise the products that consumers take for granted are being used up at an alarming rate, with devastating environmental costs. We all know this. Consumer culture has received ever-increasing blame for the environmental crisis, which marketing responds to with “green advertisingâ€. Michael Maniates’ research (2001) provides an insightful critique of this individualization associated with green marketing. Green advertising, he argues, coyly sidesteps the underlying issues of overconsumption and individualization, in the attempt to preserve familiar, comfortable patterns of consumption. According to Maniates, true environmental action would involve long term solutions such as collective public policy that reduces our consumption patterns and breaks our reliance on fossil fuels. This perspective argues that within green advertising, larger social patterns and powers are ignored and civic action is disregarded as a viable solution. Instead, individualization places all blame (as well as all responsibility for action) on individual consumers. In reality, however, green advertising is sustained through a capitalist system that is innately un-environmental in its need for constant growth and the development of new markets. Goldman and Papson (1996) share these sentiments, claiming that the entire purpose of advertising is to create demand for products, and therefore advertising is inherently un-environmental. Citizenship vs Consumption But maybe green advertising has benefits that cannot be disregarded. First, in order to fully grasp the complexities of contemporary culture, it is necessary to broaden the traditional definitions of “consumption†and “citizenshipâ€. Maniates asserts that “the individualization of responsibility, because it characterizes environmental problems as the consequence of destructive consumer choice, asks that individuals imagine themselves as consumers first and citizens second†(2001, p. 34). However, I wish to counter this idea and maintain an alternative view of the coupling of the “citizen-consumerâ€. Trentmann agrees that this phenomenon leaves social change to the realm of consumption, but argues that this new form cannot be overlooked. Thus, the conventional definitions are no longer satisfactory. Citizenship –too often see as irrelevant and stuffy– is being transformed. As Trentmann asserts, “the political is back†(2007, p. 147). Consumption and citizenship do not have to be viewed as a zero-sum game. In fact, consumers are increasingly concerned about political ideas within their consumption habits—consumer boycotts, Fair Trade Certified alternatives and concerns over sweatshops are all examples of this. Muldoon’s research draws on the concept of the citizen-consumer in the realm of environmentalism. For instance, as Muldoon argues (2006), people have different ways of being politically active, and the marketplace may be an arena for individuals who shy away from politics to be active in environmentalism. Others argue that it is often easier for voices to be heard within the marketplace than within politics. Since companies are afraid of losing business, they may be more likely to respond to public opinion. Here, green marketing has a useful purpose and can fill the voids in collective public action (Muldoon, 2006). Although Maniates (2001) argues that environmental change is not possible in the realm of the individual consumer, the fact remains that in several cases, (such as some food and personal hygiene products) consumption may be inevitable—so why not offer environmentally-friendly alternatives? Perhaps, green advertising offers consumers a reminder and an opportunity to engage with their environmental values on an ongoing basis. Seyfang also arrives at the conclusion that individual environmentally-conscious consumption is a “necessary complement†to more radical action—necessary because people require some purchased goods (2005, p. 302). Empowering the Individual? A second argument claims that green advertising’s individualization is not detrimental because it acts as an empowering force for individuals. As previously mentioned, there was a high level of concern for the environment among Americans in the 90s. However, citizens’ actions do not reflect this level of concern. This is a situation that is still extremely relevant. The authors believe that environmental advertising can be remarkably effective at empowering individuals to act on their environmental concerns. Cobb-Walgren, Ellen and Wiener’s telephone survey measured perceived consumer effectiveness (PCE) and environmental concern. Perceived consumer effectiveness is defined as the “belief that the efforts of an individual can make a difference in the solution to a problem†(1991, p. 103). However, not all advertising is equally effective in empowering consumers. Interestingly, it appears that the more “lighthearted†advertising (advertising which serious environmentalists may critique) is more effective. The authors suggest that marketing may wish to avoid discussing how dire a situation is (what they call the “sick baby†appeal), or else individuals will be completely overwhelmed and will not feel that there is anything they can do. As they argue, “one can think he or she is guilty of contributing to the problem without thinking he or she has the power to solve the problem†(p. 105). What is suggested instead of the “sick baby†approach is marketing campaigns that show how individuals are making an impact through their daily decisions. For instance, Encorp (a Canadian recycling company) regularly features advertising that mentions the positive impact of individuals’ decisions. One of their newspaper ads proudly declares: “Just by recycling your beverage containers you help keep the equivalent of 126,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases out of BC’s atmosphere†(Encorp, 2009). This way, people will be inspired to do more. The authors believe that this can be done without minimizing the importance of the issue at hand. In effect, the authors do not dismiss green advertising as a marketing campaign. Instead, they see it as a valuable tactic in warding off sentiments of hopelessness. As they argue, “both public and private policymakers who seek to encourage voluntary behavior on behalf of the environment should try to enhance consumer perceptions that their own actions will improve the environment†(1991, p. 111). Therefore, these findings suggest that green advertising’s individualization of environmental action is not wholly detrimental. Green advertising may help to raise an individual’s personal sense of control in the problems of environmental destruction, causing more action to be taken. This is a key point that Maniates may have overlooked. Although collective action is perhaps the key element in positive change, individual empowerment may be the important precursor to collective action. In this way, individual action and collective action are not at odds. Greater Effects: Voluntary Simplicity Finally, there is some evidence to suggest that individual green consumption can actually lead to more significant action. Voluntary simplicity (VS) refers to the trend of adopting a lifestyle with little consumption and material goods (Kumju et al., 2006). This decision is noteworthy because it is born out of personal choice rather than economic necessity such as poverty or war. Voluntary simplicity is not necessarily new, but the researchers have uncovered a significant new element to add to the theory: beginner voluntary simplicity (BVS). Beginner voluntary simplifiers are not true voluntary simplifiers yet, but are important precursors in the process. They may not reduce their overall consumption, but have taken measures to purchase environmentally-friendly options (Kumju et al., 2006). Because of this, beginner voluntary simplifiers are a crucial target market for green advertising. Essentially, consumption can be seen as a continuum rather than a binary, with voluntary simplicity on one side, and extreme consumerism on the other. This allows for the possibility of change. The authors decided to study this unique group to decide what steps they were taking, and what motivated them to take part in BVS. The authors determine that although advancement from BVS to VS is certainly not inevitable, there is a group of beginner voluntary simplifiers named “apprentice simplifiers†who will eventually become true voluntary simplifiers (Kumju et al., 2006). The role of green advertising is quite high for this group, the authors suggest, as they may “rely on more accessible and mainstream media, as well as actual product information on packaging†(Kumju et al., 2006, p. 526). Green advertising has educational appeal to this group of BVS. What do you think? After weighing the different arguments, Muldoon explains, “the game of sustainable living begins when more people can play. And anything that encourages greater contemplation of, and participation in, green issues is worth examining†(2006, para. 46). Here, I believe Muldoon is correct. Collective environmental groups are made up of individuals—empowered individuals who believe real change can be made. For this reason, it is simply not possible to altogether discount green advertising, and the individual action that stems from it. Green advertising and green consumerism can provide a place for the union of individual and collective action. Therefore, I believe that individual action, though not sufficient, can be beneficial and may even strengthen areas of collective action. This is not to say that the greenwashing of products is a valuable advertising practice. Rather, I wish to avoid discounting the companies who have invested effort in the hopes of truly supplying a more environmentally-conscious product. I also want to recognize that individuals can be powerful agents of social change. But I should open this conversation to you, the readers. You’re consumers of environmental media, and most likely buy environmentally-friendly products. What do you think? Is individual action sufficient? Is it important? Or is it just a way to continue destructive consumer culture? Reference List Cobb-Walgren, C., Ellen, P. & Wiener, J. (1991). The Role of Perceived Consumer Effectiveness in Motivating Environmentally Conscious Behaviors. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 10 (2), 102-117. Retrieved July 15, 2010, from Communication & Mass Media Complete database. Encorp. (2009). Beverage Containers [print ad]. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from http://www.encorp.ca/cfm/index.cfm?It=914&Id=1&Se=38,58 Kumju, H., McDonald, S., Oates, C. & Young, C. W. (2006). Toward Sustainable Consumption: Researching Voluntary Simplifiers. Psychology & Marketing, 23(6), 515–534. Retrieved July 16, 2010, from Communication & Mass Media Complete database. Goldman & Papson. (1996). Green Marketing and the Commodity Self, Sign Wars, pp. 187-215. NY, New York: Guilford Press. Maniates, Michael. (2001). Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World? Global Environmental Politics 1(3), 31-52. Muldoon, Annie. (2006). Where the Green is: Examining the Paradox of Environmentally Conscious Consumption. Electronic Green Journal, 23. Retrieved July 15, 2010, from Academic Search Premier database. Seyfang, Gill. (2005). Shopping for Sustainability: Can Sustainable Consumption Promote Ecological Citizenship? Environmental Politics 14(2), 290-306. Retrieved August 1, 2010, from Google Scholar database. Trentmann, F. (2007). Citizenship and Consumption. Journal of Consumer Culture, 7(2), 147-158.
  6. Growing your own food is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, guarantee food safety and quality, and save money in the process. But if you’re short on time and space, containers are an easy way to garden. If you haven’t started your garden yet for the summer, it’s not too late. Soil Make sure that the soil you buy is natural, with no pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers added to it. There are organic options for fertilizers available (such as natural manure and peat) although plants in containers usually thrive without adding anything to the soil. In some cases, plants can benefit from crushed eggshells added to the soil, which provides extra calcium. Containers One of the biggest mistakes organic gardeners can make is using treated wood for containers. Chemicals that the wood has been treated with can leach into the soil and into your vegetables. Choose raw, natural wood instead. Ceramic or clay pots are also available, and of course, the cheapest option is plastic. Make sure all the containers have areas for drainage. Most store-bought containers have a hole in the bottom already, but if you’re making your own, be sure to add one. Vegetables Make sure that all the seeds and plants you buy are certified organic. For those of us who live in North America and are not lucky enough to have genetically-modified products and seeds labeled as such, certified organic guarantees that they are not genetically engineered. Tomatoes are a great plant for any beginner because they’re so easy to take care of. Also, there are tons of heirloom varieties to choose from. Cherry tomatoes are a classic favourite, but it’s also fun to experiment with yellow tomatoes, green tomatoes, and tiger-stripe tomatoes. They make recipes like pasta sauce and bruschetta more colourful and delicious. The thing to keep in mind with tomato plants is that they can get quite tall, and require sturdy wooden poles for support. It’s easy to tie the plants loosely to the poles with some hemp twine. Other vegetables that are good options to include root vegetables like radishes, beets and carrots. Peppers are also surprisingly easy to grow in containers. Organic bell peppers can be quite expensive, so this is definitely a good investment. Greens like lettuce and spinach work well too. Finally, herbs are an essential for the beginner gardener. Chives and rosemary are great in cooking, and lavender and mint can make tea and sweet-smelling homemade bodycare products. Parsley is one of the easiest herbs to grow—it doesn’t need a lot of warmth or water (it can even survive the winter!), it doesn’t attract a lot of pests and it can be added to almost any recipe. Herbs can be combined in one big planter, while vegetables should be kept separate. Watering The great thing about containers is that they can easily be moved in and out of the sun or rain. You can even buy wheels for the bottom of the containers! Some plants do better in the elements then others, but moving them undercover when its raining is generally a good idea. When watering your plants, water close to the roots and try to avoid getting the leaves and vegetables wet. When you first plant seeds, water gently so the seeds won’t get uprooted and wash away. Insects Not all insects are bad in the garden. Knowing which bugs to keep around can actually improve your vegetables. Garden-friendly insects include bees (to pollinate plants), ladybugs, dragonflies and spiders (who will eat insects you don’t want) and earthworms. Not-so-friendly critters include slugs and snails, and aphids. You can also make your own organic “pesticide†by pouring a little liquid soap on aphids, which will kill them. Even better, introducing ladybugs will solve the problem. In many cases, simply spraying aphids with the hose will wash them away. Slugs can usually be deterred by a ring of eggshells or pine needles around the plants that they cannot cross. To kill slugs, beer and salt both work well.
  7. Photo credit: woodleywonderworks Taina, a Vancouver-based environmentalist and blogger, has taken on a challenge most of us would find daunting: living for a year without any plastics. She started in January, so May marks the fifth month into the project. Every few days, she updates her online followers with her challenges, successes, and angry (though justified) plastic-rants on her blog Plastic Manners. Taina cites many reasons why she’s decided to tackle this particular issue. Basically, our society is in denial about both the pervasiveness and the dangers of plastic. First, many plastics leach toxic, carcinogenic chemicals that are dangerous to our health. Bisphenol-A, PVC, and phthalates are only three examples. Furthermore, plastic is polluting the oceans, and have been found in enormous amounts in the bodies of animals like whales, clams and albatrosses. Single-use plastics, such as straws, spoons, water bottles, bags and coffee cups are the worst offenders and the greatest source of plastic pollution. Finally, recycling is not the answer. Not all plastics are recyclable, and those plastics that are not will be on this earth forever. If they are recyclable, they are usually “downcycledâ€. This means that they usually cannot be made into the same product. They have to be made into something smaller or of lesser quality. A little is always lost at every step. Recycled plastics can also break down into toxic byproducts. Not to mention, recyclable plastics do not guarantee that they will, in fact, be recycled. I was lucky enough to ask Taina a few questions about her project and she was kind enough to let me share her story with you: Q: What pieces of advice can you give to people who want to use less plastic? A: I think it all has to start with a recognition of the problem- an awareness of how ridiculous our throw away habits have become. Take a granola bar. Great snack that you enjoy for maybe one minute, but the plastic packaging around it last FOREVER in our environment. An unpackaged treat (homemade), without the pollution and guilt, would be way more rewarding, guaranteed.   Second, once you have really internalized the “dilemmaâ€, then start refusing. On behalf of future generations/Earth/the Oceans, say NO THANKS! Refuse one item at a time – a straw, a bag, a coffee cup, a lid— until it becomes second nature and starts to apply to a wider range of things. And there are so many little convenience things that are easy as pie to give up right away without major changes to lifestyle. The bigger changes will come, when you are armed with awareness and quick refusal instincts. Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in the project? A: Hmm... I have two thoughts: “Debbie Downer†would say: how catastrophic plastic pollution really is, and how important it is for us to act now. The optimistic part of me says: how easy it is to give up plastic, and how absolutely rewarding it is to go back to the roots, and make your own stuff. Convenience is not what makes life colourful. Q: What are you most missing that you can’t find an alternative for? What alternatives do you wish existed that don’t? A: Beer is one item that I wish existed readily without the plastic- caps on the bottles, lining inside cans. I will be making my own very soon. Health products are hard to find without plastic- be it Advil or birth control pills. And other natural products (e.g. plastic-free toothbrushes) that are always wrapped in plastic. Same with plastic-free mascara (although someone recently gave me a tip on how to make my own). On the alternatives front, I’ve come to realize how little you actually do need. People always ask me about alternatives, and my list of essentials is actually not that big. You can simply live with less and be totally happy. Back to the store-bought granola bar, I totally don’t miss things like that; it is simply out of habit that we feel like we need all these convenient things. Q: There seem to be two conflicting issues when it comes to this project. Some healthy, local, organic products come in plastic, whereas their non-plastic alternatives are either slightly less healthy, or come from far away. How do you balance these two issues? A: I’m constantly battling with this one- so this answer will be rambly. It goes case-by-case: When it comes to natural products wrapped in plastic, I simply say “no way!â€. If it were really green, it wouldn’t have the offending substance around it. Those companies will not be getting my money. There are always better options out there- and if the stores and/or creativity fail you, then you just give it up all together. No biggie. When it comes to things like the soap nuts [natural nuts that can be used instead of laundry and dish soap], I always land on the side of the nuts versus a plastic-wrapped detergent. This is because plastic has a huge footprint. First, the manufacturing of it from petroleum is ridiculous. As is its shipping from wherever it was made. And then the waste; the biggest thing for me is that the plastic will never go away. If I do my own lifecycle analysis comparing the two products, intuitively the nuts would always win, even if they are shipped too. Now, there may be a better, local, alternative to the nuts- like a baking soda that was made here. I use that too. (I could go on forever about cleaning products. Most people feel that they need so many different types of products, because that is what industry has wanted to sell us. Literally, you could use baking soda and/or soap nuts to do your whole house, clothes, and dishes. And the benefit is that you, your kids, and your pets won’t be suffering from all those chemicals. And what about things like the stain repellents on clothing? Is the lack of a spot really worth our health?) When it comes to health versus plastic, health wins in most cases (as long as “health†does not mean unnecessary “green†alternatives). For example, I will buy medicine when needed. And I buy organic vegetables and produced now, even with the stupid plastic sticker, if no other option is available. This is because the pesticides have a huge impact too, both on the Earth and me. And at least the sticker is small, and I am supporting a greater cause by putting my money to organics. But again, with a little planning, I don’t have to shop in those places that over-sticker their products. I guess on the whole, it is a balancing act. Everything we do has an impact. The question is, what is an acceptable impact for you personally? Q: Have you encountered any people who do not support your project? How do you deal with any criticism? A: On the whole, people are super stoked. I don’t think anyone wakes up and looks forward to consuming plastic and polluting, so they are happy to know that life without it is possible. It is interesting how little it takes for their own awareness to kick in. The only negativity I have received so far came from the Styrofoam-interest association. It figures. Taina’s awesome blog contains frequent updates, as well as information about the dangers of plastics and links to other plastic-free activists. Check it out yourself at http://plasticmanners.wordpress.com/
  8. Time for Spring Cleaning!

    Photo credit: mckaysavage Regardless of whether or not you smoke, drink, eat right or exercise, environmental toxins are inescapable. It’s a sad truth that comes with living in our modern world. Just to name a few sources, toxins are found in pollution, pesticides in food, and chemicals in plastics and cosmetics. It’s important to remember that people are part of the environment, not separate from it. Whatever toxins harm and pollute the earth have the potential to harm and pollute us. An internal cleanse (or “detoxâ€) is a natural, healthy way to gently rid the body of some of the dangerous environmental toxins stored in its cells. Historically, many cultures embraced cleansing as part of a healthy lifestyle, including ancient Chinese medicine and saunas. The human body naturally cleanses itself, yet it becomes overwhelmed by new environmental toxins that it did not have to deal with generations ago. Therefore, cleansing is increasingly important due to the vast increase in chemicals in our society. Today, popular cleansing programs come in a wide variety of forms, including supplement packages, blends of tea, and smoothie mixes, and usually last for one or two weeks. After all the heavy, comfort food from winter (not to mention getting ready for swimsuit season) spring is the perfect time for a whole body cleanse. Cleansing Benefits Everyone is different, and will experience slightly different benefits. Some of the benefits of detoxing are: Increased energy Better sleep Improved digestion Reduced allergies You may even shed a few pounds in the process! Please note: cleanses are not for everyone. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have any serious health issues, or are taking any medications, speak to your doctor before cleansing. What cleanse is right for me? When choosing a cleanse, it’s important to choose one that’s right for you, and that you know you’ll be able to commit to for the entire time period. Generally, the longer the cleanse, the more it will do. One-week cleanses usually only address water soluble toxins, whereas two-week cleanses are able to tackle the more important fat soluble toxins (toxins that are trapped in fat cells). However, popular starvation cleanses (though heavily promoted) are not safe or effective. These include the famous “Master Cleanseâ€â€”also known as the “Lemonade Dietâ€. This “cleanse†requires high amounts of sugar (from maple syrup) to keep you going, and enough cayenne pepper to keep your body temperature high enough, as the body is starved of key nutrients. The same goes for “cleanses†consisting only of laxatives. It’s also important that you choose a cleanse from a reliable company. It should have enough nutrients and vitamins to keep you energized and healthy while removing toxins from your body. Good ingredients to look for include: herbs such as milk thistle, which detoxifies the liver fibre (soluble and insoluble) to bind to waste and carry it out of the body vitamins and minerals, which support the body’s normal processes protein and amino acids, to provide long-term energy antioxidants, which bind to harmful free radicals released in the cleansing process probiotics, to support the immune system How do I cleanse? Most cleanses require dietary restrictions. Basically, you don’t want to add toxins to your body when you’re trying to remove them. Avoid: Alcohol Caffeine (including green tea, although herbal tea is usually allowed) Junk food Artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners or preservatives Dairy products (can be difficult to digest, and often have added hormones) Gluten (a difficult-to-digest protein found in wheat, spelt, kamut, rye, and other grains, pastas and cereals) Reduce: Refined sugar Highly acidic foods, such as tomatoes and vinegars Red meats (often have added hormones) All cleanses differ, but generally, foods allowed include: Lots of water! (and herbal tea) Lean protein, such as skinless chicken and fish (except for tuna due to mercury) Nuts and seeds (these provide long term energy and healthy fats) Fresh veggies (organic is best, to avoid pesticides) Fresh fruit Brown rice Beans, lentils and other legumes Herbs for seasoning It’s important to stay motivated. Remember, it’s only one or two weeks long, and to get the benefits, its important to complete it. Try to get a friend or two on board with you, so you can motivate each other. And although it’s hard, when the cleanse is over, don’t go overboard on the junk food to make up for lost time! If you follow the rules and complete the program, your body will thank you and you’ll feel great. Happy spring cleaning!
  9. Photo credit: roland With only a few days left before the 2010 Olympic Games officially begins, there is a buzz around the streets of Vancouver. Being a resident of the city, I can certainly say it has undergone some radical changes in the past few months. Regardless of whether or not you support the games, it seems everyone has something to say. Recent talk has surrounded the issue of sustainability. Considering, at the very least, the carbon emissions created by all the flights into the host city (and some residents’ flights out of the city) the Olympics can never be genuinely environmentally-friendly. However, Vancouver 2010 has been promoted as “the greenest Olympics ever†(official website: http://www.vancouver2010.com/sustainability/). Interestingly, David Suzuki recently awarded Vancouver 2010 a bronze medal for sustainability (full article: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/latestnews/dsfnews02031001.asp). He writes: “achievements of the 2010 Olympics include building energy-efficient venues, using clean-energy sources, relying on public transit during the Games, and offsetting part of the Games’ emissions.†However, several areas were lacking. For example, the David Suzuki Foundation admits that “opportunities to create lasting reductions in transportation emissions in the region have been missed.†In addition, the carbon-offsetting accounted for less than half of the overall emissions. Are the 2010 Olympics green? Yes, but only because there’s no snow! Which raises the first major point. Vancouver is mild, sunny, and snow-free, which has Olympic officials incredibly worried. What has everyone most concerned is the lack of snow at Cypress mountain, where major events will be held. The solution? Instead of switching locations to snow-filled Whistler, trucks have been transporting snow three hours—from Manning Park all the way to Cypress, using fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases. Around the city, road closures and detours have also created traffic havoc, thereby increasing greenhouse gases. An equally controversial topic is the famous red Olympic $10 mittens. They are marketed as the must-have souvenir for the games and it seems every second Vancouver resident on the street is wearing them. Ironically, the mittens are made in China. This has been argued by some as trivial and irrelevant, but as such a prominent icon of the (“greenâ€) Olympics, the symbolic importance of this hypocrisy should not be ignored. Profit is certainly more important than sustainability, as countless other souvenirs (made around the world and shipped to Vancouver) are also ready on the shelves to be consumed. Finally, as if Christmas lights don’t create enough controversy, many Vancouver residents have been encouraged by VANOC to “Paint the Town Red†by decorating their houses with red and white lights, using more electricity. As climate change continues to become a more and more pressing issue, it’s crucial that long-term, legitimate measures be taken on the part of organizations like the Olympic Committees. Greenwashing won’t cut it. After all, the Winter Olympics just wouldn’t be the same without, well, winter.
  10. Green Resolutions

    Photo credit: woodleywonderworks Chances are, you already do quite a few of these already. These ideas certainly aren’t new or ingenious. However, they are simple, easy and attainable. So if you see something new on the list, give it a go. There are always things we can work on. Your Two New Best Friends... ...are your reusable shopping bag and stainless steel thermos, of course. The thing about shopping trips and coffee runs is that they’re often unplanned, so you can’t realistically say no to plastic bags or paper cups. The problem is that these one time slip-ups really add up for the planet. But its easy to avoid if you always keep these two essentials with you. Never leave home without them! Go Veggie Once a Week It’s probably no surprise that meat production and processing requires an immense amount of water and land—more than is required to produce any other form of food. So even if it’s just once a week, eating a vegetarian meal makes a difference. As an added bonus, a plant-based diet has countless health benefits, including lower cholesterol and a reduced chance of heart disease. If fussy family members don’t approve, try to make it exciting for them. Homemade pizzas (meat free), tacos and falafels are all great options that are both fun to make and eat. Printing At school and work, printing can often be unavoidable. But there are ways of making it a little better. First, try to suggest ways of avoiding printing to your boss or teacher. Other suggestions: go for recycled paper if you have the choice; print on both sides of the page; set your printer on the “draft†mode so it uses less ink; copy and paste only the essential parts of the document you want to print; and make sure to carefully proofread your work beforehand, so you won’t have to print it all out again. Eco-Friendly Shopping Although shopping really isn’t eco-friendly, at some point, things do need to be purchased. So replace your essential items (when they need to be replaced) with environmentally-friendly alternatives.  For food, get to know your community by visiting farmers markets and sampling local eggs, produce, baking and more. Clothing can be purchased second-hand, produced locally, or made with environmentally friendly hemp, soy, bamboo, or organic cotton. Clothing-swap parties are also a fun way to get new clothes free and have fun in the process. Of course, choosing new appliances that use less energy is essential. Finally, try to purchase things (clothing, accessories, appliances, etc) that are meant to stand the test of time. The motto “Quality over Quantity†may not be part of our disposable society, but it’s important to embrace this values of previous generations. No More Junk Mail! Say no to paper junk mail by adding a simple red dot sticker to your mailbox. Check out the Red Dot Campaign’s website to get involved: http://www.reddotcampaign.ca/ Try Container Gardening Even if you live in a condo. Even if they’re just herbs. Even if its just one container on your windowsill. There are tons of low-maintenance plants that require little water, and very little space. No green thumb required! Plus, there’s nothing like sprinkling your own parsley on top of your favourite spaghetti, knowing exactly where it came from, and that it’s 100% pesticide-free. Start with herbs like basil and chives, and veggies like cherry tomatoes and peppers. Hang Dry Your Laundry Why waste the energy when it’s so easy to let your clothes hang dry? There’s something charming about that rustic, country look of a clothes line flapping in the summer breeze. Plus, it saves money. Talk About It! This may be the most important one. It’s great if we make choices ourselves, but we have to promote these ideas to others. And since you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that. So spread the word and try to get others involved. Preaching and nagging can get annoying, so attempt it in fun, creative ways. Have family members over for an organic, 100-mile, vegetarian meal; ask your friend to help you garden; brag to your co-workers about the awesome organic cotton t-shirt you just bought; or ask your neighbour if she’d like some free-range eggs you got from the local farmer. Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and green new year!
  11. Photo credit: mroach When it comes to climate change, journalists are notorious for getting even the simplest of facts wrong. Take, for example, an article from March 2007, by Julie Wheldon, which proclaims “Greenhouse Effect is a Myth, Say Scientists†in the headline. Yet, the body of the article does not argue that there is no greenhouse effect. In fact, no scientist would argue that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist. Without it, life as we know it would not exist. So why does the media get it wrong? Well, there are a few reasons, put forth by different researchers. Here, I summarize the four main concepts from three articles: Wilson, “Communicating Climate Change Through the Mediaâ€; Boykoff & Boykoff, “Balance as Bias: Global Warming and the US Prestige Pressâ€; and Antilla, “Climate of Scepticism: US Newspaper Coverage of the Science of Climate Change†to explain what goes on behind the headlines. 1. Misinterpreting Studies Journalists, generally, do not have science degrees. However, when it’s a journalist’s job to translate findings from scientific articles into reasonably understandable and easy-to-read newspaper articles or TV news stories, this becomes quite the challenge. The first problem is that the journalists themselves might not understand the complex concepts. The second problem is that they might try to simplify the concepts for others. When both problems occur, a factually incorrect story results, like Julie Wheldon’s. 2. Creating a Story Journalists require news stories that fit the time (TV, radio), space (newspapers, magazines, blogs) and budget constraints. In TV, visuals are also crucial. However, scientific studies and theories are often too time-consuming, expensive, or risk seeming dull on TV without visuals. Thus, climate change coverage often falls by the wayside. Reporters often try to make climate change relevant by relating it to local weather stories. From a journalist’s point of view, this provides a unique, local twist to the ongoing story of climate change. Otherwise, from a newsroom perspective, global warming provides very little potential for an article. Not surprisingly, however, its extremely hard to prove whether one particular storm or flood could be caused by global warming. 3. Drawing an Audience Whereas scientists’ studies are full of careful phrasing, such as “possibly†and “couldâ€, it is the job of journalists to grab people’s attention through bold headlines, and eye-catching statements. That’s how a scientist’s declaration that “climate change is too complicated to be caused by just one factor, whether CO2 or clouds†(said by Philip Stott and cited by Julie Wheldon’s article) may turn into “Greenhouse Effect is a Myth, Say Scientists†in the headline to catch readers’ attention. Journalists also have a tendency to create drama by framing climate change in duelling-scientist model. Articles pit scientist against scientist, while ignoring the larger picture and issues. 4. Balance as Bias No scientists deny that climate change in happening. While this may sound like a bold statement, it’s actually not. The earth’s temperature is rising—no one doubts this. The debate occurs around the details of it, and what the future will be like. In the field of contemporary journalism, however, objectivity is valued. Thus, reporters will often go out of their way to find an opposing view, to appear balanced. These opposing views are extreme and falsified (like denying the greenhouse effect). The experts cited by journalists often have little relation to the fields of climate science. Paul Reiter, cited by Wheldon, is not a climate science expert, but a malaria researcher. He is quoted as saying “I am not a climatologist, nor an expert on sea level or polar ice. But I do know from talking to many scientists in many disciplines that this consensus is a mirage.†(http://www.eco-imperialism.com/content/article.php3?id=210).    Highlighting incorrect science just for the sake of having two views can create a bias of its own, when it appears that there is a legitimate debate. This is the phenomenon that the term “balance as bias†describes. 5. Corporate Ties Returning to Wheldon’s article, many of these “experts†she cites are not only unqualified in climatology (like the malaria researcher), but they have ties with the fossil fuel industry and big business. Ian Clark, for example, is a member of the right wing think-tank organization “The Fraser Instituteâ€. The Fraser institute is infamous for hiring scientists to deny global warming, and is funded by ExxonMobil. Two other organization Clark is involved in (“Competitive Enterprise Institute†and “Heartland Instituteâ€) are also funded by ExxonMobil. Paul Reiter, again, writes for “Tech Central Stationâ€, a publication that is also funded by ExxonMobil. Two other organizations Reiter is involved with (“Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy†and “International Policy Networkâ€) are —you guessed it—funded by ExxonMobil. Clearly, these climate change deniers, cited by the media, are swimming in fossil fuel money. It’s easy to find out which denies are connected to the industry. Greenpeace has developed a wonderful tool that traces Exxon Mobil money to publications, politicians, organizations and scientists: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/exxon-secrets In theory, the scientists are doing their job, and the journalists are doing theirs. It’s no one’s fault that scientists use careful phrasing, while reports need to create eye-catching headlines. The problem occurs when the two disciplines become tangled together, like they do in the case of climate change. Wilson’s article documents a study of the public’s climate change knowledge, and the results were disappointing. Many people confused the terms “climate change†and “greenhouse effect†for the same thing. They are not synonymous terms. People also believed that global warming was strongly debated among scientists. Interestingly, the people who scored the lowest are those who reported TV as their main news source. So, why it matter if the media gets it wrong? Journalism (newspapers, magazines, TV news, etc) is the prime medium through which the public learns about climate change. Unless a person is already somehow educated about the topic, it’s unlikely that they would start reading (or have access to) peer-reviewed scientific journals. Therefore, if the media gets it wrong, chances are, the public will too. And this is a major problem.
  12. Too Much Estrogen!

    Photo credit: x-ray delta one Our society is suffering from estrogen overload. No, I’m not referring to Sex and The City reruns—estrogen overload refers to the increasing amount of estrogen in our environment, our food and our bodies. “Good†Estrogen Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, is responsible for normal body processes in women such as secondary female sex characteristics, menstruation, fertility, protein synthesis, bone density, metabolism and much more. Actually, there are three kinds of estrogens in the body: estrone, estradiol, and estriol, which all have specialized roles to play at different points in a woman’s life. Although estrogen levels are greater in women, estrogen is also needed for libido and maturation of sperm in men. Sources of Environmental Estrogens Synthetic (or environmental) estrogens are known as xenoestrogens, or estrogen-mimickers. Although they are not strictly estrogen, their similar structure allows them to bind to estrogen receptors in the human body, causing estrogenic activity.  Drugs and Medicines A primary source of estrogen comes from taking oral contraceptives, which contain high amounts of synthetic female sex hormones. And what happens to all the hormones in drugs and oral contraceptives? Well, the excess estrogen leaves the body in urine, which then enters the water supply which everyone (men and children included) consumes daily. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), is another form of synthetic hormones, often used for women suffering from menopause symptoms. HRT has been linked to breast cancer, blood clots, heart disease and strokes. Natural Food Sources Plants with estrogenic activity are called phytoestrogens, the most common of them being soy. Although this estrogen is not synthetic, it can still affect one’s health by raising estrogenic activity. For this reason, people, especially men, may wish to avoid excessive soy intake. (For a great look at the issues surrounding soy, read Liz Thompson’s Green Blog article “Soy: Super Food or Troublemaker?â€) Synthetic Food Sources: Dairy and Meat In the USA, dairy and beef cattle are given synthetic estrogens so they grow faster and produce more milk. In Canada, growth hormones are only allowed in beef cattle. However, since hormones are stored in fat cells in the body, these growth hormones end up in the milk, cream, yogurt, cheese and meat we eat on a daily basis. Synthetic Food Sources: Pesticides and Herbicides Pesticides can be dangerous estrogen-mimickers, and unfortunately, its hard to tell what has chemicals and what doesn’t. Generally, most food that is not 100% certified organic has come been grown with pesticides and herbicides, or has come into contact with the chemicals during processing. As well, many lawns, gardens and parks receive chemical treatments on a regular basis.  Plastics Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a harmful xenoestrogen found in number 7 plastics. Primarily, its used in water bottles, tin cans, baby bottles and food storage containers. Heating and freezing these plastics (even by leaving a water bottle in a hot car) further the release of the toxins into the water, to be ingested. (See “BPA Update: Examining the Plastic Debate 1 Year Later†in this blog for more details.) While bisphenol-A was designed to keep plastics hard and unbreakable, phthalates are a type of plastic designed to keep plastics soft and flexible. Research has shown that phthalates are powerful endocrine disruptors for growing bodies and can even cause birth defects. The iconic rubber duck is a prime of example of phthalates at their worst. Even worse, they’re marketed to the most vulnerable demographic—children. The recent book Slow Death By Rubber Duck tackles this issue in full http://slowdeathbyrubberduck.com/. The writers also analyse many other household toxins, including more examples and effects of xenoestrogens. Cosmetics and Other Products Sadly, so many products marketed to women and used every day contain dangerous chemicals. Cosmetics, hair dyes, nail polish, chlorine-bleached feminine sanitary napkins, sunscreens and household cleaning products are just some of the products that contain dangerous xenoestrogens. Effects of Environmental Estrogens So we’re getting lots of estrogen...does it matter? Well, although big business doesn’t want you to think so, it matters. It is well known that oral contraceptives with synthetic estrogens can cause breast cancer, strokes and blood clots. What is less publicized, however, is how the smaller amounts of environmental estrogens affect people. In women, environmental estrogens can wreak havoc on the body’s delicate reproductive system, causing all kinds of problems. Some examples include: early puberty, painful period cramps, irregular menstrual cycles, heavy periods, PMS, fibroids, endometriosis, cysts, low sex drive, infertility and menopause symptoms. Unfortunately, when these conditions become too difficult and painful to deal with, doctors recommend (often unnecessary) hysterectomies. Canada and the USA have the highest rates of hysterectomies in the world. However, even after childbearing years, the uterus is important extremely important. Removal of the uterus has been linked to depression, osteoporosis, risk of heart disease and stroke, loss of libido, and increased rate of reproductive cancers. But...I’m a Guy Men can be affected too! In fact, recent research has suggested that men are being affected in extreme ways that we are only beginning to realize. The CBC documentary “The Disappearing Male†provides an insightful look at these issues and is definitely a must-watch! To give a glimpse, here are some scary but true statistics from the documentary: “The quality of sperm is declining. Eighty-five per cent of the sperm produced by a healthy male is DNA-damaged. The average sperm count of a North American college student today is less than half of what it was 50 years ago. The number of boys born with penis abnormalities and genital defects has increased by 200% in the past two decades. Paternal exposure to solvents, pesticides, and metals has now been associated in animals and humans with the occurrence of spontaneous abortion, low birth weight, birth defects, childhood leukemia, brain cancer, change in the male to female sex ratio of offspring.†(Source: http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/doczone/2008/disappearingmale/index.html) Prevent Estrogen Dominance Diet Dietary estrogens are one of the easiest to avoid. If you eat meat of dairy, avoid commercially produced brands. Instead, opt for local or organic dairy and meat products which do not contain growth hormones. If you consume soy on a regular basis, look for alternatives. Other protein sources include beans and lentils, lean meats and fish, nuts and seeds, and grains like quinoa. Non-dairy milk alternatives include beverages made from almonds, hemp, potatoes or rice. Whenever possible, eat organic produce and grain products as well. Remember, xenoestrogenic activity is caused by pesticides and herbicides as well. Supplements At your local health food store, you can find supplements to reduce environmental estrogens, while restoring the healthy estrogens. Examples include herbs like vitex and black cohosh. Women’s supplements can treat menopause symptoms, low libido, PMS and more. There are hormone-balancing supplements for men as well. Liver supplements (milk thistle, green tea extract, etc) are extremely important for men and women, since the liver is responsible for cleansing the body of toxins. Avoid Environmental Estrogens Try to avoid plastics as much as possible, especially in children’s toys. In water bottles and food containers, avoid number 7 plastics. Never freeze or heat plastic containers or bottles. Don’t use pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals on your lawns or gardens. Use natural cosmetics, skin, nail and hair care products whenever possible. Use natural cleaning products in your home. I Think I Have Too Much Estrogen! If you believe you’re suffering from estrogen dominant conditions, look into visiting a naturopath who can prescribe natural hormone-balancing vitamins, herbs and homeopathic remedies. Many young girls who experience period cramps or other estrogen dominant conditions are put on oral contraceptives by doctors. The birth control pill doesn’t fix these symptoms, it hides them, while exposing girls to further health risks from the pill. If you’ve been to a doctor and had hormone tests, and the results come back normal, don’t be convinced. The range of estrogen levels doctors consider “normal†is too wide to be accurate. Everyone is different—what may be normal for someone else may be too high for you. A good naturopath will take thorough hormone tests, combined with other methods to determine your individual situation. For those who have not been to a naturopath before, it is a shockingly different experience than a traditional trip to the doctor. The visits can last over an hour and the naturopath takes time to listen and understand all your detailed concerns, symptoms and history, before suggesting treatment of any kind.
  13. Photo credit: iateapieIt’s amazing to see just how much power some celebrities hold over the masses. They can create the latest trends and sway public opinion with just a few sentences. In the case of Oprah and her sidekick Dr. Oz, turning açaí berries from a Brazilian food into a household name was simple. Background Information Açaí (pronounced ah-sah-ee) berries are the small, dark purple fruit of a type of palm tree that grows primarily in the Brazilian rain forest. They are eaten by locals as part of their daily diets. In North America, açaí berry juice has been sold in health food stores long before the recent craze because of their “superfood†qualities. Açaí berries contain amino acids (the building blocks of protein), antioxidants, fibre, essential fatty acids (the “healthy fatsâ€) and vitamins. Because of this, açaí berries are a wonderful, nutritious food and a great addition to one’s daily diet. However, that’s all that açaí berries can truly be promoted as. Since its recent publicity on the Oprah show, companies and scams have been claiming that açaí promotes weight loss, increases energy, improves sleep, improves heart health and even increases penis size. Indirectly, some of these claims can be considered true. For example, fibre and essential fatty acids (Omega 3 in particular) have been known to support heart health. High fibre content may also reduce hunger cravings, thus enhancing weight loss. The American Diabetes Association recommends 24 grams of fibre help balance blood sugar levels. However, the serving size in Monavie and Sambazon’s açaí range from 1 to 3 grams. Açaí is not a drug, a cure for any disease or weight loss supplement. It is simply a very nutritious food, that, when used in conjunction with other strategies, supplements and foods, can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. As “Genesis Today†states in its magazine ad for açaí: “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any diseaseâ€. And no, in case you were wondering, it does not increase penis size. Overlooked Questions In the middle of all this hype, there are questions about the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest in the process of açaí berry harvesting, as well as the workers who are involved in the growing and harvesting of the berries. The cotton, sugar cane, coffee and cocoa industries are all examples of industries in which the Western “developed world†has exploited the people and environment of developing countries such as Brazil. Only recently has some of the sugar, cocoa, coffee and cotton industry become regulated through Fair Trade practices and regulations. However, there is still much work to be done in these areas. Thus, it is only natural to consider the health and safety of the farmers, workers and local ecosystem in this açaí berry boom. I contacted three companies who make, distribute, and promote açaí products: Genesis Today, Sambazon and Monavie. I asked them all the same questions: “Where are how do you harvest the berries? Is your company directly involved in the berry harvesting or does another company do that for you? Is the process sustainable? Is your company doing anything to preserve the natural state of the ecosystem? Are the workers protected by any local laws? What are they paid? Is your company doing anything to protect the workers?†Company Profile: Sambazon Sambazon deals exclusively with wild harvested açaí. Their products include juices, smoothies, supplements in powder and capsule form, energy drinks, and even sorbet. Sambazon’s products are Certified Organic through the USDA. Sambazon was extremely quick to respond to my queries, and provided me with plenty of information about both the preservation of the rainforest, as well as the well-being of the workers there. First of all, Sambazon is Ecocert Fair Trade certified, ensuring that an independent governing body oversees Sambazon’s practices. As well, Sambazon has also founded the Sustainable Amazon Partnership (SAP), supported by the Nature’s Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. According to Sambazon, “Greenpeace claimed that açaí may be one of the best ways to "save the rainforest".â€Â (http://sambazon.blogspot.com/2009/05/açaí-postitive-force-in-amazon.html)  While quoting slightly out of context, this is more or less true. Greenpeace actually said that while there is no one way to save the rainforest, the açaí industry, among others has the “potential to provide communities living in the forest with a sustainable means of incomeâ€. (http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/forests/solutions/amazon-case-study) Greenpeace also concludes that because of the açaí palms rapid growth and the large quantity of berries that each tree produces, açaí can be considered the Amazon’s most financially viable non-wood crop. Thus, Sambazon is correct in their statement that “locals could earn more harvesting Açaí than clear-cutting the forest.†Company Profile: MonaVie In contrast with the two other companies, MonaVie is sold through a multi-level business model, where customers buy the juice from a MonaVie sales representative. As well, MonaVie does not deal exclusively with açaí. Their blended beverage also contains other fruits and berries, such as grape, apple, blueberry, pear and banana. Thus, the açaí content is lower than that of other companies. However, the açaí in the juice is the most publicized and marketed. The açaí berries in MonaVie are wild harvested, as are the other companies. However, Monavie is not Fair Trade or organic. This is a section from Monavie’s reply to my questions: “We pay the harvesters substantially more to harvest the açai berry than they would otherwise to harvest the hearts of palm. Also, the education we have given to the harvesters of the hearts of palm has shown very beneficial results. Many of these harvesters have begun planting more açai trees when one has died. In this way we have contributed to the preservation of the rainforest and helped the economy in these regions.†MonaVie has also founded (and funds) “The MORE projectâ€, to “change lives and restore families through a variety of specific programs†in Brazil (http://www.themoreproject.org/). They focus on education and healthcare, and recruit volunteers to visit the region and help out. The website also features a store where the public can purchase products such as clothes, books, CDs, and jewellery made from açaí berry beads. Company Profile: Genesis Today Genesis Today’s “Açaí 100†is the pure juice. Unlike açaí juice blends such as MonaVie , “Açaí 100†contains no added sugar, water, other fruit juices, preservatives, flavours or sweeteners. Their products are available at most health food stores. Unfortunately, Genesis today did not reply with information about their product or business practices, and there is only minimal information available on their website. Is Açaí Worthwhile? The verdict supplied by the companies is that açaí is a positive force in the Amazon. However, since this information comes straight from the companies themselves, its doubtful that it would be anything other than positive. Independent information is hard to come by, and even Greenpeace’s comments about açaí were from 2005, already out of date. The World Wildlife Fund cited research conducted on Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), such as açaí, in a recent report about the Amazon (http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wnf_amazonerapport_def.pdf). Although it was stated that NTFPs “provide the people inhabiting the forest with both a means for living as well as a cash income†and açaí has been successfully marketed, there were some disappointing results. For instance, Arnold and Perez (2001) as well as Kusters et al. (2006) refute the theory of a straightforward link between NTFPs and conservation. Instead, “extraction of NTFPs can cause forest degradation, especially if repeated harvesting occurs at close intervals. Demand for NTFP products is selective, which could lead to domestication and loss of diversity. NTFPs are mostly used to supplement diets in particular seasons, but generally do not represent a road to prosperity for poor communities, due among other things to the high transaction costs of marketing them.†Also to be considered is the problem of unpredictable markets, as trends like açaí come and go fleetingly (Belcher and Schreckenberg, 2007). Belcher and Schreckenberg (2007) also note that once a exported product like açaí becomes successful, domesticated and synthetic variations are created. That being said, the question remains: is it possible to get açaí’s health benefits without the high price tag and food miles? Simply put: yes. Regardless of all the advertising and marketing hype, the same nutrients are found in many other foods. Essential fatty acids can be found in fish, flax oil and nuts, fibre can be found in psyllium and flax seeds, amino acids can be found in all protein sources, antioxidants can be found in pomegranate, blueberries and green/white tea, just to name a few. Cinnamon has even been shown to lower blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. Health food stores carry natural vitamins, herbs and remedies that don’t have to be shipped from the Brazilian rainforest, but provide the same effects. However, it doesn’t seem like the little purple berry that everyone’s talking about will go away in the near future. As it’s difficult get a clear picture of the situation at this point in time, we may have to wait and see what happens in the future. As always, I encourage comments about this issue. And if you know something I don’t, I’d love to hear it!
  14. Photo credit: busymommy Breakfast: good for you and the planet! Many teens either skip breakfast or grab something starchy and sugary on the way to school. However, from a nutritional point of view, breakfast is the most important part of the day. The solution? A fast and easy breakfast smoothie. You can make your own with protein powder, yogurt and frozen berries, or try Vega smoothie mixes. They have protein for energy, plus all your vitamins and minerals to start the day right. Vega compared its Whole Food Optimizer to a “traditional North American breakfast†including hashbrowns, eggs and bacon, and a “light North American breakfast†including yogurt, cereal and banana. According to the Vega website, there are 38 times more greenhouse gas emissions created by traditional breakfast and 10 times more greenhouse gases created by the light breakfast compared to Vega. Thus, switching to Vega for a year would be equivalent to turning off a 60 watt light bulb for 12,500 hours, or 521 consecutive days (Source: http://sequelnaturals.com/). Transportation If no school bus is provided for your school, consider car-free ways of getting to and from class every day. Walk, bike, or create a “walking school busâ€, where a group of children walk to school supervised by one or more adult. It’s safer in numbers, easy on the planet, good physical activity and simple for parents, who can take turns supervising. Visit http://www.walkingschoolbus.org/ for more details. If all else fails, carpool or take transit. Waste-Free Lunch Use stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic disposable ones. As I’ve mentioned before, stainless steel is non-toxic, durable, easy to clean and does not rust. Green Bottle (http://www.greenbottleonline.com/) has plenty of fun designs kids will love to brag about to their classmates. They come in 12 oz, 20 oz and 25 oz sizes with a variety of lids including sport tops. Look for non-toxic, BPA free Tupperware such as Preserve. Some companies like By Nature and Bento Box Systems offer complete lunch sets for kids including cloth napkins, reusable bags and storage containers. Nubius Organics sells toxin-free reusable cutlery made from bamboo. Clothes For back to school clothing shopping, thrift stores are the way to go. Treasure hunting at second hand stores can be just as much fun as showing off the new fashions. It’s amazing to see how many designer labels and never-worn items there are. Plus, kids and teens love having unique pieces that’ll be the envy of all their friends. For new clothes, even the biggest stores such as Roots Canada, H & M and The Gap are jumping on the organic cotton bandwagon for kids clothes. It’s never been easier to find eco-friendly clothing close to home and at reasonable prices. Just make sure the percentage of organic fibre is high—be wary of 10% organic cotton/90% polyester blends! Bamboo, hemp and soy are other great earth-friendly fabrics. Supplies Before school starts, sort through supplies from the previous years and keep whatever possible. You’ll be saving money in the process. Refillable pens and pencils are a smart alternative to disposables. Or, if you prefer, Earthzone pencils are made out of 100% post consumer recycled newspapers—no wood used! Paints should be water, not oil based. From binders to notebooks, avoid PVC plastic, instead opting for cardboard and paper. In all your paper purchases, look for recycled and non-chlorine bleached options. Remember that unless it says “Post-consumer waste†it may be scrap paper that never left the factory. Try Ecojot Notebooks—they come in cute, stylish patterns and are 100% post-consumer recycled. For printer paper, most big brand retailers offer recycled options as well. Along the same lines, reduce before you re-use—don’t print rough copies of assignments unless absolutely necessary. Backpacks should ideally be made from all-natural materials, such as durable hemp. Otherwise, check out PVC free options at http://www.nubiusorganics.com. At-School Projects Environmental class projects don’t have to be reserved for Earth day. There are tons of fun ways to encourage environmental activism to suggest to teachers and school staff. Younger children may enjoy taking nature walks, going on field trips to the recycling depot, and planting trees in the school yard. Students in older grades may wish to start a class vegetable garden and school compost project, or petition for organic options in their school cafeteria.
  15. Photo credit: How can I recycle this By now, most people have now heard of BPA (or bisphenol-A), the chemical found in polycarbonate plastics. BPA is most often founds in clear, hard plastic water bottles, food containers and baby bottles (when in doubt, BPA is found in number 7 plastics). As of April 2008, BPA has received considerable press attention for health and safety concerns. Canada is the first country to ban the import of baby bottles that contain BPA. Furthermore, in October of last year, the Canadian federal government added BPA to its list of toxic substances. The reason? BPA mimics the hormone estrogen. Over the years, estrogens and estrogen mimickers are becoming increasingly prevalent in our society. Common causes include dairy and meat growth hormones, hormones from birth control pills being released into the water supply and polycarbonate plastics. Even certain foods, such as soy, can mimic human estrogen, causing a rise in hormone levels in the body. Harmful to both men and women, BPA exposure has been linked to insulin resistance, obesity and infertility. BPA has also been linked to abnormal growth in breast, uterine, ovarian and prostate cells, which may lead to cancer. Infants are especially sensitive to such chemicals, explaining the ban on BPA baby bottles. The plastic industry, of course, denies such claims. However, even those who support the use of BPA explain that plastics made from BPA should be used carefully. For example, they should not be frozen or heated at high temperatures. This is extremely difficult, though, when infant bottles are meant to have milk heated inside them. Also, may people bring their plastic water bottles on a hot day, or leave them in a hot car. These actions further the release of the toxins into the water, to be ingested. Although the recent concern over BPA is due to safety concerns for humans, the chemical is also dangerous to the ecosystem. An environmental pollutant, BPA is also harmful to the reproductive systems of fish and other marine life. Indirectly, plastics are well known to stay in landfills for hundreds of years or pollute oceans. Since the media spotlight on BPA, some companies have made wonderful changes. On the other hand, many big-name brands haven’t done much. Perhaps the most remarkable change is the opportunity for small companies that catered to (previously) niche markets of stainless steel and glass products to become mainstream. Still, the hype for “BPA free†everything has resulted in confusion over what “BPA free†truly means. Water Bottles The most BPA confusion has resulted from the water bottle industry. Since 2008, companies such as Mountain Co-op and Lululemon voluntarily removed water bottles containing BPA. Retailers like Starbucks, however, continue to sell number 7 plastic containers for hot and cold beverages. As far as plastic alternatives go, not all metal bottles are created equal. Aluminum bottles (such as SIGG) may be lightweight, but they are always coated with a thin plastic layer. There is much controversy regarding how safe the plastic lining is, and whether it may contain trace amounts of toxins. To avoid these controversial plastics, choose bottles made from 100% food grade stainless steel with no plastic lining. Stainless steel is non-toxic, durable, easy to clean and does not rust. Also, make sure that the plastic used for the lid is BPA free. Good examples include Klean Kanteen, Green Bottle, Purica and Bilt. Tin Cans Many people don’t know that the lining of tin cans contain BPA. However, since most people use tin cans more often than water bottles, they’re more of a concern than previously thought. As well, most food is heated at extremely high temperatures before being packed in cans, increasing their BPA content. There are very few brands of canned products that are not lined with BPA. Over the past year, many companies has expressed interest in using BPA free cans, but have not made the switch yet. Eden Organics has been producing BPA-free canned products since 1999. Instead, they line their cans with “Oleoresinâ€, an expensive but naturally-derived oil and a resin mixture. Their line includes delicious canned beans, tomatoes, rice, lentils and chili. For other BPA free alternatives, opt for dried soup mixes, and products such as pasta sauces in glass bottles. When cans are unavoidable, refrain from heating the cans and use the product as soon as possible, since the lining leaches more BPA over time. Keep in mind that BPA breaks down and leaches into food faster in the presence of fatty foods like fish, and acidic foods like tomatoes. Food Storage Replacing Tupperware with BPA free alternatives has never been easier. Preserve brand plastic food storage containers are made from recycled number 5 plastic, and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Of course, Pyrex glassware is a dependable staple for food storage and cooking. Baby Bottles There have been substantial gains in the baby bottle industry. As mentioned, baby bottles that contain BPA were banned in Canada. The company Born Free offers glass bottles that are growing in popularity. For those who prefer plastic bottles that have less chance of breaking, Green to Grow bottles are made from recycled material, dishwasher safe and BPA lead, phthalate and PVC free. Still, there is a long way to go, since many “BPA free†plastic baby bottles were recently found to contain trace amounts of the chemical. Thus, the past year has opened up a lot of discussion in the BPA debate, and no doubt there is much more on the way. I appreciate any discussion on the topic, whether you agree or disagree, or if you know of more bisphenol-A alternatives I haven’t mentioned. Â