Saturday, December 20, 2008

Soda Lovers Learn Waste Management

On the homepage of the Container Recycling Institute is a counter clocking how many beverage containers have been landfilled, littered and incinerated in the United States. This year alone the counter has tallied over 123 billion bottles and cans. Amazingly, the average American drinks around 60 gallons of soda each year, sadly, only 33-45 percent of those bottles and can get recycled. The environmental toll from the production, packaging and shipping of each soda can and bottle is incredible – the energy wasted in 2001 to produce 50.7 billion soda cans was the equivalent to 16 million barrels of oil!  Our towns and cities are being buried in water and soda bottles and cans. 
 (Image: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

With the economy in the dumps-- no pun intended-- the problems arising from these drink containers is getting even more severe.  Plainly said, at this moment in time, there is no market for recyclables. Paper, plastic, aluminum, cardboard, all those products we are so proud to put in our recycling bins and put on the curb for pick up are piling up at municipal recycling facilities.  A once lucrative business, recyclers cannot find anyone to buy there "junk".  

According to a December 7th story in the New York Times entitled Back at Junk Value, Recyclables are Piling Up, in some areas mixed paper is selling for $20-25 a ton, down from $105 in October and tin is now $5 a ton, down from $327 earlier this year.  Some towns and cities across country that used to get paid for their recyclables are either not getting their monthly checks or are now being charge to take the junk away.  

I recently spoke with public works representative in my town who told me that our township was getting paid for all our recyclables but the checks had stopped coming.  However, they told me that our town is lucky because we are in a contract with a hauler, so our recyclables were still getting picked up. In many towns without rock-solid contracts, recyclable haulers are refusing to pick up their loads.  

So now what?  Clearly we should not abandon our recycling programs. I know I've painted a bleak picture, but it is really important to continue to recycle.  However, now more than ever, the first two of the 3 "R's"s are increasingly more important.  We need to REDUCE and REUSE.
 
Between 1960-79 the average person purchased 200-250 packaged drinks per year. In 2006 that number has soared to 686 drinks (Source: Container Recycling Institute).  We need to turn this around and reach for zero new waste. We need to make consumer choices to buy products that are not only recycled and recyclable, but to buy goods that do not generate more recyclable garbage.  Sounds hard right?  Well in some instances its not as difficult as you might think.

In my house we've taken an interesting step in this direction. We drink a lot of soda water (seltzer).  At least a 1/2 gallon a day.  Now my husband and I used to drink Peligrino by the case.  Doing so would put at least 6-8 glass bottles back into the garbage/recycling stream on a weekly basis. In addition, our sparkling water traveled thousands of miles to reach us. A gallon of Peligrino costs over $7.50 per gallon, much more than gasoline. 

Recently, we got the opportunity to try out Sodastream Soda-Club, a home seltzer and soda-making machine. The machine is already helping eco-conscious consumers elsewhere - 30% of German and 24% of Swiss households have soda machines and have reduced their waste.  With a Soda-Club machine, we drink freshly made, great tasting seltzer and we are drastically reducing waste from store-bought cans and bottles. The machine uses no batteries or electricity, just a 14.5 oz CO2 canister that can make up to 60 liters of seltzer or soda. Empty carbonators are returned to Soda-Club to be cleaned, inspected and refilled with CO2 drawn naturally from the air. Carbonators are reusable as long as they remain in good condition. 

We tried a machine that is called the Penguin. This little marvel comes with 2 glass carafes. Other versions come with clear plastic (PET), BPA-free reusable bottles will about 3 years. Each bottle also comes with a special cap with a hermetic seal that keeps your soda carbonated long after you first open it and it really works. 

The machine's also come with regular, diet and caffeine-free flavors to make cola, root bear, cherry soda and many more. In addition they have fruit essence to make flavored-seltzer. If you are purist like me these syrups may not pass the test. But for those of you who still need your soda fix, it beats drinking high-fructose Coca-Cola. Regular flavors have 2/3 less carbs, calories and sugar than store-bought sodas, and contain much less sodium. Both regular and diet flavors do contain Splenda®. 

For our household we are sold. We always have fresh bubbly seltzer in the house. Finish a bottle during a meal, just fill the bottle with water, stick it in the machine press the lever and we have seltzer in seconds. According to Carbonrally, we save about 6 lbs of carbon emissions per week (production, bottling, transport) by making our own soft drinks. According to Soda Club, worldwide, they estimate over 10 million units have been sold.  That is huge savings worldwide in carbon emissions, bottles and cans.
  
So if you are like me and want to still recycle but REDUCE your waste dramaticly, I suggest giving a Soda-Club machine a try.  The machines range from about $100 to $230 dollars depending if you order just a machine or a machine with flavors.  All machines come with CO2 carbonators.  It may sound a little steep but the savings on your waste, environmental impact and future costs (pay back depends on how much you drink), it is well worth it.  AND Soda-Club is giving Green Luvin' readers a discount.  Use the discount code MELISSA at check out you will get an additional $5 off after their current holiday discount, a total savings of $25 per machine.  

Friday, November 7, 2008

An open letter to President-elect Obama.

Dear President-elect Obama, 

After a long, hard and contentious campaign you've won the Presidency of the United States. Congratulations. Take a moment to enjoy your success. Ok, that was long enough. Now let's down to business.  

You well know that you have a long hard road ahead of you, but your first order of business is to choose a cabinet that is strong, thoughtful and will move this country in the right direction. In my opinion, and in the opinions of many people like me, administration environmental jobs should a top order of business. Our crumbling economy will not matter if we cannot breath our air, drink our water, or eat our food. Relieving the credit crunch won't make a difference if rates of obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease continue to rise. Keeping people in their homes, empowering people to buy new cars will become meaningless unless we fix the food system, the water system, and limit the spread of untested genetically modified organisms (GMOs). That is why I am calling out to you to take a good look at who you appoint as Secretary of Energy, Head Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Secretary of Interior, Secretary of Agriculture and possibly the new position, Climate Change Czar -- or make this a function of the Department of Homeland Defense.

Of all the cabinet level posts you will fill, there is one that is usually a second thought, but in my opinion is as important as State, Treasury and Defense -- the Secretary of Agriculture. Our food system is in dire need of a change and the right person might be able to help begin the overhaul necessary. 

The Secretary of Agriculture oversees food safety and sets farm policy.  He/she makes recommendations to Congress on which crops should be subsidized, how agricultural laws are enforced, crop-land conservation, and setting the nations nutritional standards and even organic labeling. They also oversee our food stamp program, food distribution during disaster relief efforts, the US Forest Service and the food that is fed to our children in school. That's a big job.

I have read that former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack is on the short list for this position. From the corn state, Vilsack strongly supports ethanol subsidies. He believes that he has changed the corn fields of Iowa into energy fields. To me that sounds like a shift in use, not better agriculture or energy policy. As he stated in an op-ed in the Argus Leader, "If you drive across Iowa today, you will see a changing landscape marked by new ethanol and biofuel production plants and wind farms. As a state, we became more economically, environmentally and energy secure." Today, Iowa farmers are still hurting the soil and water by using petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers. Furthermore, these farmers have shifted corn from feeding the world to ethanol production, which, as we all know, is not helping increase our independence from foreign oil. But with all his good intentions, former Governor Vilsak is too much of an insider to create really change.

I have also read that your short list includes Tom Buis the President of the National Farms Union and the Congresswoman for South Dakota Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. These two are also agriculture "insiders" who are in the pocket of industrial agriculture who might working in the best interest of the farmers they represent, mostly corporate farming, but neither are strong enough or creative enough to achieve real change we need in the system.

Then there is former Congressman Charles Stenholm (D-TX). Charlie is a conservative Democrat that joined the Republicans to kill a bill that would have prevented sick cattle that are unable to walk from entering the US food supply. (Remember the video released by the Humane Society of downer cows?) While part of the House Agriculture Committee he received more than $800,000 in PAC contributions and took numerous trips sponsored by agriculture lobbyist groups. After leaving Congress he became a lobbyist for the agriculture and food industry. Again, not someone who is going to change our system for the better.

So by now President-elect Obama you must say, well then who? There is one man out there who is not already in politics, who has examined our foods system from farm to table, and who understands the impact it plays on our environment, our economy and our health. He has intimate knowledge of not only farmers, but also diaries, feed-lots, and food processors. He is not a Washington insider and to top it off he has already laid out a plan for tackling the issues we face. His plan takes into account the impact agriculture has on our climate, energy dependence, the healthcare system, foreign and trade policies and national security. As states in his own words:
We need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine. True, this is easier said than done — fossil fuel is deeply implicated in everything about the way we currently grow food and feed ourselves. To put the food system back on sunlight will require policies to change how things work at every link in the food chain: in the farm field, in the way food is processed and sold and even in the American kitchen and at the American dinner table. Yet the sun still shines down on our land every day, and photosynthesis can still work its wonders wherever it does. If any part of the modern economy can be freed from its dependence on oil and successfully resolarized, surely it is food.
The scribe of this plan called the Sun-Food Agenda is Michael Pollan, the Knight Professor of Journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley, director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism and author.

President-elect Obama I urge you to read Professor Pollan's plan as laid out in an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled "Farmer In Chief" and stick with what you have been saying throughout your campaign, that America needs real change. I urge you to consider Michael Pollan for the Secretary of Agriculture. (Or at least consult with him to mine his knowledge on the issues to make the best choice possible for the position.)

Pollan's plans are not liberal.  They are not conservative.  They are what is best for America.  And most importantly they are achievable.

As Pollan states:
[The] sun-food agenda promises to win support across the aisle. It builds on America’s agrarian past, but turns it toward a more sustainable, sophisticated future. It honors the work of American farmers and enlists them in three of the 21st century’s most urgent errands: to move into the post-oil era, to improve the health of the American people and to mitigate climate change. Indeed, it enlists all of us in this great cause by turning food consumers into part-time producers, reconnecting the American people with the American land and demonstrating that we need not choose between the welfare of our families and the health of the environment — that eating less oil and more sunlight will redound to the benefit of both.
This is a new era for America and Michael Pollan may just be The Change We Need.

Yes We Can!

Best,

Green Luvin'

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Victory Garden at the White House?

The next U.S. president is going to have the daunting task of fixing all that has gone wrong in this country. However, I believe that both candidates are overlooking an extremely important issue -- our food system. As Michael Pollan said on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show, “It’s true that neither candidate has talked about food policy very much. Some of the issues they have talked about — energy independence, climate change and the health care crisis — I think they will find, as soon as they get into office, that you can’t deal with any of those three problems without dealing with the food system.” 

Last month Pollan wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine which was an open letter to the next president called "The Farmer In Chief" where he laid out what is wrong with our food system and what needs to changed. The article has too many important points to lay out here so please read it.  However, I will highlight one. Pollan concludes his piece with saying that the White House needs to set an example for the rest of the world. I am a firm believer in setting an example for others whether they be our children, our friends or for the next president -- the country.  

Pollan recommends that the next President needs to create a new post -- White House farmer -- who would be in charge of five acres of the White House lawn that would be turned into an organic fruit and vegetable garden. This may sound silly but as Pollan points out back in 1943 Eleanor Roosevelt started the Victory Garden movement, vegetable and fruit gardens planted to ease the burden on the food system during World War II. According to Pollan, by the end of the war more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce American's consumed. Victory Gardens today can help reduce our dependence on fossil-fuels and help address the problems of climate change.  

Well Pollan is not the only one who thought of using the White House as a national organic garden  -- two groups Eat the View and The Who Farm are petitioning the next president to plant an organic garden on the White House lawn.  

"Eat the View" is a campaign to plant healthy, edible landscapes in high-impact, high visibility places; whether it's the "First Lawn" or the lawn in front of your child's school. "Eat the View" is coordinated by Kitchen Gardeners International, a Maine-based 501c3 nonprofit network of 10,000 gardeners from 100 countries who are inspiring and teaching more people to grow some of their own food. Roger Doiron the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International just wrote his own letter to the next president entitled "Message to the candidates: Listen to Roger the Gardner" stating the importance of this issue.

TheWhoFarm (aka The White House Organic Farm Project) is a non-partisan, petition-based initiative who is requesting that our next president oversee the planting of an organic farm on the grounds of the White House. The farm will be a model for healthy, economical and sustainable living everywhere and serve as an educational tool and economic aid, and as a means to provide food security in the Nation’s Capitol while reconnecting the Office of the Presidency to the self-sufficient agricultural roots of America's Founding Fathers. TheWhoFarm have been traveling around the country educating Americans on the importance their mission in TheWhoFarmMobile, two school buses fused together with an organic edible garden on the roof.

Instead of a President that loves jelly beans or one that runs to McDonald's to get a Big Mac or one who hates broccoli, how about a president that walks out his front door and picks his own lunch -- or a least his farmer and chef do! Please sign both petitions. You can find the The WhoFarm petition by clicking here and the Eat the View petition by clicking here.

And don't forget to vote on Tuesday.  

 

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Going down the road feeling green.

Twenty years ago when I travelled all over the country to see the Grateful Dead, I always thought it would be cool to have a Westfalia VW van to travel around in. Cruising the parking lot of show I loved to poke my head in the Westfalia checking them out fantasizing about the owner's seemingly carefree life. Well that was a long time ago, and the idea has been stored way back in my subconscious, until now.


Flipping through Time Magazine's November supplement Style & Design I discovered the Westfalia Verdier Solar Power.  Created by Alexander Verdier, this hybrid camper is outfitted with solar panels that provide electricity for the on-board accessories while the vehicle is stationary.  There is an on-board computer and a GPS (Global Positioning System) that calculates the optimal position for the solar panels which are dubbed "Sun Tracker."

Some other improvements from the 1960's version include, a pneumatic suspension, which lowers the vehicle and sets its structure on the tires for improved comfort and a better stabilization in the stationary position. The sliding half-door on the passenger side that has an integrated folding staircase which makes the second stage area accessible from outside the vehicle. The passenger seat is transformed mechanically into stairs so that the second stage area (top level) can be easily reached from inside. A swivel cooking range makes it possible to cook outside as well as inside.  And of course, a multi-media computer with a wireless Internet connection.  To really see how cool this "van" is, check out out a video by clicking here.

Well Jerry Garcia is dead but the dream is alive today. I'm fantasizing right now about going with my husband and kids across country in this chic and environmentally friendly Westfalia rendition. Oh how I am ready to go on the road again! The Verdier will not be available until 2009 but they are taking reservations now.  Shoot, it's $129,000.  Ok the dream is dead.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

1908 Ford Model T vs. 2008 Ford Pick-Up

On October 1st, 2008, the Ford Model-T turned 100-years-old.  Back in 1908, the year my grandmother was born,  this "universal car" as Henry Ford called it, became the first mass-produced car and the symbol of low-cost reliable transportation. But more important than it's centenial, the Model T got 13-21 MPG (max speed 45 MPH), and it was the first flexible-fuel vehicle, running on gas, ethanol or both. According to Model T collector Stu Chaney of the Model T Ford Club of America who appeared on the The CBS Saturday Early Show, "It will run on moonshine, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel-- about anything you can put a match to. And, whatever it runs on, it would pass today's very strict emission standards, because it burns the complete charge in the combustion."

Call me crazy but why are we no better off 100 years later? According the the US Department of Energy's website, FuelEconomy.gov, the 2008 Ford Ranger Pick-Up gets 15 MPG (highway, city combine).  I drive a Acura MDX and hardly ever go above 45 MPH and I am only getting about 15 MPH, and neither of these cars are Flex-Fuel vehicles.  

Are you kidding me?  So the 100 year-old Model-T does better on fuel efficiency than cars made today and its a flex-fuel automobile.

Henry Ford knew there was a future in alternative fuel.  In 1925 he told the New York Times that "The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust -- almost anything. There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There's enough alcohol in one year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years."

In the late 1920's, Ford began to test crops for their industrial potential.  He actually used soybeans in gearshift knobs and horn buttons. This process of creating industrial products from agricultural raw materials is called Chemurgy.  Coined by the chemist William J. Hale, chemurgy in the 1930's during the Great Depression, many farmers and others were advocating the link between farm and industry. In 1935, the Farm Chemurgic Council (later renamed the National Farm Chemurgic Council) was formed to encourage greater use of renewable raw materials in industry. This sounds like a good idea to me.  If you've read some of my other blogs, you know that I feel strongly about the pervasive nature of petrochemicals in our everyday lives.  

So tell me what happened in the past 100 years.  Well, after Henry Ford began producing the Model-T oil-based gasoline emerged as the dominant fuel due to it availability, price, and of course lobbying from petroleum companies to maintain steep alcohol taxes. According to Hemp Car Transamerica (don't laugh this is both legit and important):  "Many bills proposing a National energy program that made use of Americas vast agricultural resources (for fuel production) were killed by smear campaigns launched by vested petroleum interests."  So big oil killed big agriculture's bid for our gas tanks?  We're dependent upon foreign oil due to American big oil efforts.

Hemp Car Transamerica continues, "One noteworthy claim put forth by petrol companies was that the U.S. government's plans 'robbed taxpayers to make farmers rich'. Gasoline had many disadvantages as an automotive resource. The 'new' fuel had a lower octane rating than ethanol, was much more toxic (particularly when blended with tetra-ethyl lead and other compounds to enhance octane), generally more dangerous, and contained threatening air pollutants. Petroleum was more likely to explode and burn accidentally, gum would form on storage surfaces and carbon deposits would form in combustion chambers of engines."  So this fuel is less efficient, dirtier, and more dangerous.  Great choice America.

Finally, Hemp Car Transamerica concludes,  "Pipelines were needed for distribution from 'area found' to "area needed". Petroleum was much more physically and chemically diverse than ethanol, necessitating complex refining procedures to ensure the manufacture of a consistent "gasoline" product. However, despite these environmental flaws, fuels made from petroleum have dominated automobile transportation for the past three-quarters of a century. There are two key reasons: First, cost per kilometer of travel has been virtually the sole selection criteria. Second, the large investments made by the oil and auto industries in physical capital, human skills and technology make the entry of a new cost-competitive industry difficult."

Back in 1974, the EPA began the Miles Per Gallon rating system.  In a 1999 press release announcing the 25th Anniversary of the rating system, the EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner stated, "Choosing the most fuel-efficient vehicle within a class can save drivers at least $1500 [in 1999] in fuel costs and avoid more than 15 tons of greenhouse gas pollution [in 1999] over the life of the vehicle as well as help reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil."

Well only now in 2008, 100 years after the first Model T rolled off the manufacturing line, are Americans and our government, seeing the health, economic and environmental effects of not listening to Henry Ford's original vision.  Well I'm not sure about this?  Are we leading the world, or or we lagging behind?  Can you guess?

Currently one country in Asia has fuel efficiency standards of 43 MPG.  Another has mandated 35.5 miles per gallon by 2010. Those crazy Europeans have mandated 47 MPG by 2012, and Australia is 34.4 by 2010.  But the US is waiting until 2020 to require cars to go 35 MPG. 

Guess who is at 43 MPG?  THE CHINESE.  Yes China, the land of coal fired power plants popping up like weeds is WAY ahead of us in this area.

Time to go vote.  Let your Senator or Congressperson know how you feel about this.  Now is the time.  Think Green on November 2. 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Week in Green

I decided that there is so much "green" news out there each week that I would update you on what I think are the most interesting stories and topics.  So each week I will publish "The Week in Green."

If there is something that you think is interesting, topical or important, please post it to the comments here, on my Facebook Group (Green Luvin') and/or my Facebook blog, Green Luvin'.  You can also follow me on Twitter @Green_Luvin.

The Week in Green...

Be Green and Vote:  In most states you have until the end of the week to register to vote in the Presidential election.  Some say "why should I vote"?  No matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat, an environmentalist or a creationist (not sure why anyone would be), you MUST exercise your right to vote.  In this week Grist, Umbra Fisk wrote a piece called Citizen Bane: On the importance of voting.  A must read for all and if you have not registered to vote go to Declare Yourself to find out your state's deadline and all you need to register.


Bush's Environmental Record:  In a week that has once again exposed the incompetence of the Bush administration, the Republicans have boycotted a review of Bush's environmental record, as reported by the Environmental News Service. All of us know this administration has failed the American people on environmental and health issues while letting big business run rampant without oversight.  "For six years the administration sat by while oil imports increased, gas prices rose and global warming became more and more threatening," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. "It refused to set higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles even when the data showed that the current trajectory was actually hurting the U.S. auto industry, desiccating its market share."

Fast Food is transforming the waistlines of the Greek: Our fast and highly process foods are making the U.S. a nation of the overweight, sick and obese. We have been told that the healthful Mediterranean diet — emphasizing olive oil, fresh produce and fish -- is the way to go. But as reported in the New York Times this week, the Greeks have succumbed to our ways and are now seeing increased negative health effects from the change in their nation's diet.  So much so that the government has began lectures on nutrition in schools.  As stated in the article, "In Greece, three-quarters of the adult population is overweight or obese, the worst rate in Europe “by far,” according to the United Nations. The rates of overweight 12-year-old boys rose more than 200 percent from 1982 to 2002 and have been rising even faster since."  

The reusable shopping bag, green or not?:  If you're reading this, and you are, you probably have about a half a dozen or so reusable shopping bags.  Those of us who do, proudly bring them to the supermarket making our statement that we are taking one step in reducing waste and helping the environment. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal this week entitled "An Inconvenient Bag," reusable shopping bags are the new "it" freebie.  Sales are up 76% from this time last year.  Wow, what a business, but is it a green business? "Many of the cheap, reusable bags that retailers favor are produced in Chinese factories and made from nonwoven polypropylene, a form of plastic that requires about 28 times as much energy to produce as the plastic used in standard disposable bags and eight times as much as a paper sack, according to Mr. Sterling, of Natural Capitalism Solutions.

Reclaiming Cow Shit for Energy:  So many people dis on the cow because they feel that bovines are a leading causes of global warming.  They burp and fart methane. Well, a farm in Vermont is now taking the waste from their cattle and converting into clean burning natural gas to create a new and recurring source of green energy. The Green Mountain Dairy in Shelton, Vermont is part of an alternative energy program that converts methane from cow manure in to electricity.  Check out this interesting and progressive program by reading  Electricity From What Cows Leave Behind in the New York Times, The Business of Green section.

By the way, please don't print these stories out to read them.  Save the paper and read them online.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A little Green Luvin' PR

Every once in a while we all need to do our own public relations...so here I go.

I am now officially a "green parent". Well, sort of....check out a blog called The Green Parent: Your Kid Friendly Guide to Earth-Friendly Living.  They interviewed me about what is means to me to be green.  

Also, Green Luvin' is now on Facebook. So all you Facebook fans can read my posts there and have real time discussions on the green issues that interest you most. Click here to join my blog, or if you are not a member of Facebook (isn't everyone?), then click here to join -- then of course, join my blog network and don't forget to rate it (five stars of course)! (If for some reason the link to my blog on Facebook is not working -- it's tempermental -- then search for Green Luvin' in the Facebook blog network.)

I'm also syndicated. Green Luvin can be read on Eco-Chick, a blog written by women who care about the environment, and Diet Detective, the health and fitness network.

Finally, if anyone is interested in a Green Luvin' t'shirt, let me know and I will have one made for you -- printed on organic cotton for $23. I would LOVE for you to wear and promote my blog. My family absolutely loves theirs, and you'll love one too.

Thanks for reading and stay green!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New study finds that you don't have to overeat to become obese.


Pollution contaminates our water, air, and land. It has been proven to cause asthma, allergies, cancer, emphysema, and whole host of other diseases. It causes global warming, kills our wildlife and now scientist from the Environmental Epidemiology at the Institut Municipal Investigacio Medica in Barcelona discovered it causes OBESITY.  

So in addition to fast foods and processed foods, pollution causes obesity? The Spanish study revealed that children who were exposed to a range of common chemicals and pesticides in the womb increased the childs chances of becoming obese. 

As reported in the journal Acta Paediatrica, scientists looked at the concentration of hexachloreobenzene (HCB) in the umbilical cord blood of 405 children born in Menorca from mid-1997 to mid-1998. Among those data point collected post birth, scientists looked at infant height and weight.  Feeding practices were reported by mothers in interviews at six months and one year after birth.  Additionally, the children’s height and weight were measured when they were 6.5 years old. The study revealed that children with the highest exposure to HCB were 2.5 times more likely to be overweight. The researchers also reported that these children were three times more likely to be obese than those with lower exposure levels. 

So, what is HCB? Hexachlorobenzene is a fungicide formerly used to treat seeds to control fungal disease. It was banned globally in the '90s under the Stockholm Convention which banned chemical substances that accumulate through the food chain, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment. HCB has been banned in the US since 1965 but can still be found in our environment in 84 Superfund sites in the US and all across the world. It is a known animal cancinogen and a probable human carcinogen. Studies have found that HCB accumulates as your move up the food chain. Just like mercury, as it goes up the seafood food chain, HCB concentrations increase. Therefore, if you eat a large fish like tuna or swordfish that has been contaminated up the food chain, the concentrations of HCB would be extremely high.

So what else have children been exposed to prior to being born, and what impact might it have on my kids?

Previous studies have linked bisphenol A exposure to obesity in animals, and other studies have linked phthalates to obesity in adult men. As reported in the Telegraph in the United Kingdom, "The report's authors are now calling for exposure to similar pesticides to be minimised, including bisphenol A (BPA), used in baby bottles and cans of food, and phthalates, found in cosmetics and shampoos." Tests have shown BPA is found in 95% of Americans, while 90% have been found to be exposed to phthalates in the womb.

Between BPA, HCB, and phthalates, I'm frustrated and concerned. I would prefer to screw my kids up on my own and not worry about what their sippy cups or shampoos are made of, or what banned fungicides are in their foods.

What's keeping you up at night?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Junk mail, other than the annoyance, what's the problem? Lots...

If you're like me you love getting mail. The holiday cards, the thank you notes, etc. There is little more exciting than the sound of opening an envelope and reading a real piece of mail. But what I hate is the junk mail. Specifically the catalogues that clog my mail box and pile up day after day.

Well it turn out that more than 19 billion catalogs are mailed to households in the United States every year. That's 63 catalogs for each man, woman and child in the US. Well I wanted to put an end to this flood of useless mail.  I knew my family was getting a ton of these unwanted, unrequested catalogues from companies like LL Bean, Lands End, Victoria Secrets, Restoration Hardware and a whole host of other companies, well actually for me, eight-two companies. Eighty-two, that is how many different companies have sent me a mail-order catalogs in the past 2 months.  That is more than one catalog a day not including repeat catalogs! Wow that's a lot of junk mail.  

How do I know it is eighty-two?  About two months ago I began using Catalog Choice, a free service that contacts mail-order companies for you to remove your name from their mailing lists.  I knew I received a lot of catalogs but I had no idea that is was SOOO many.  

Using the Environmental Defense Fund paper calculator, Catalog Choice calculated the impact of all these catalogs on our environment. More than 53 million trees are need make 3.6 million tons of paper and 38 trillion BTUs of energy are need to produce the paper (enough to power 1.2 million households per year.) This process emits 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide equal to annual emissions of 2 million cars -- significantly contributing to global warming. More that 53 billion gallons of wastewater is discharged to create the catalog paper -- enough to fill 81,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  This doesn't even take into account the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the US Post Office from delivering these useless pieces of paper.

Since its launch last year, almost one million people have joined Catalog Choice and already opted out of 13,117,365 catalogs.  More than 1,000 companies have joined in to help people opt out of getting their catalogs but there are a few that have decided not to participate.  Out of the 82 companies on my list just Garnet Hill, Metropolitan Museum of Arts Store, Nordstroms, and Title Nine are not participating.  To date, 22 companies on my list have confirmed the opt out and Catalog Choice is still working on the rest.  

Catalog Choice is not the only service out there. For a fee, GreenDimes and 41pounds.org will get rid of unwanted junk mail and catalogs. OptOutPrescreen.com will stop unwanted credit or insurance offers. Even the Direct Marketing Association offers ways to remove your name and address for mailing list.  

It is so easy you have to try.  All you have to do is input them in and Catalog Choice does the rest.

Let me know how many catalogs you get rid of!



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cancer or Germs? I'll take the germs.

I must admit that in my house we might be thought to be a little lax when it comes to germs. I am not saying that we do not wash our hands when we go to the bathroom or before we eat. We play in the yard digging for bugs and worms and get big slobbery kisses from our dog. We are not afraid of dirt, and follow the "five second rule".  That said, we are a very clean family. We focus on washing our hands to ensure that there is no, as my 2 year says, durt when we touch food.  

Now, I have never been big on anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizer because I believe that we need to build up our immunity to bacteria and viruses to make us stronger. When the kids were infants I did use these types of cleaning products but now that they are older, these products are basically non-existent in our house.  

So when I was asked to test out a new, natural, non-toxic hand sanitizer, I was little disinterested but began a dialogue with the company because I was willing to learn more. One of the key points of this new product was they do not use triclosan a widely used anti-bacterial agent. 

What is triclosan you ask?  Well, this is what I learned and it is not a pleasant story...

Triclosan is antimicrobial and antifungal pesticide that is used in a wide variety of products found in retail stores across the country including soaps, toothpastes, cosmetics, deodorants, personal care products, first aid, kitchenware, computer electronics, toys, plastics, paints and clothing. It is widely known as Microban which is infused into everything from cutting boards, pillows and shoes because it inhibits the growth of microbes, such as bacteria, mold and mildew.  Ok, that does not sound that bad...yet.

However, according to Beyond Pesticides, a group dedicated to eliminating toxic and harmful pesticides from our environment, "Studies have increasingly linked one of the most common antimicrobial, triclosan (and its chemical cousin triclocarban), to a range of adverse health and environmental effects, from skin irritation, allergy susceptibility, bacterial and compounded antibiotic resistant, tainted water, and dioxin contamination to destruction of fragile aquatic ecosystems."  

As explained on Wikipedia
During wastewater treatment, a portion of triclosan is degraded while the remaining adsorbs to sewage sludge or exits the plant in wastewater effluent. In the environment, triclosan may be degraded by microorganisms or react with sunlight forming other compounds which may include chlorophenols and dioxin, or it may adsorb to particles that settle out of the water column and form sediment. Triclosan was found in Greifensee, a small lake in Switzerland, sediment that was over 30 years old, suggesting that triclosan is degraded or removed slowly in sediment.
Whoa....wait a minute,  Triclosan degrades into dioxins and chlorophenols, both are known carcinogens. Studies have shown that ultraviolet light converts triclosan to dioxins and it is believed that sunlight could transform triclosan to dioxins naturally. Scientist at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA tested 16 products including soaps, lotions and body wash with triclosan and without.  They discovered that the triclosan products reacted with chlorinated water to produce chloroform, another carcinogen.  So this stuff breaks down into cancer causing agents. I think we'll keep our hands a bit dirtier and live longer.

In a press release from the Environmental Working Group, the organization states:
Triclosan has been linked to cancer in lab animals, has been targeted for removal from some stores in Europe for its health and environmental risks, and the American Medical Association recommends against its use in the home. It is also linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, and low levels of triclosan may disrupt the thyroid hormone system. Thyroid hormones are essential to proper growth and development, particularly for brain growth in utero and during infancy.

Triclosan breaks down into very toxic chemicals, including a form of dioxin; methyl triclosan, which is acutely toxic to aquatic life; and chloroform, a carcinogen formed when triclosan mixes with tap water that has been treated with chlorine. Scientists surveyed 85 U.S. rivers and streams, and found traces of triclosan in more than half.
Just last month, Beyond Pesticides, along with Food and Water Watch, Greenpeace US, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and dozens of public health and environmental groups filed a comment/letter with the Environmental Protection Agency, urging the the agency to stop all non-medical use of triclosan because of its detromental effects on our health and the environment. You can read the press release and comments submitted to the EPA by clicking here and here

As I mentioned, triclosan can be found in many, many everyday products. To see a detailed list of products and brands, check out the list on Beyond Pesticides by clicking here. Some very well known brands are on the list like Colgate Total toothpaste. Toothpaste? How scary is that? You are putting triclosan and therefore carcinogens directly into your mouth and your body! So rinse and spit, and now you have chloroform. The Colgate website touts "Colgate Total® formula is so revolutionary it's even patented. One of its active ingredients is triclosan, which is used to help prevent plaque and gingivitis. The formula's copolymer enables triclosan to continue working in the mouth for 12 hours." Great so use this toothpaste and triclosan will stay in your mouth for 12 hours!  That's 12 more hours of exposure to a potential cancer causing agent than I want.

So how do we get rid of those unwanted germs when we really need to. Well let's go back to that product I dismissed at first. It is called Clean Well made from Ingenium, a natural germ killing product derived from thyme and other essential oils. According to the company, Clean Well kills 99.99% of germs on contact including E. Coli, Salmonella, Staph (MRSA) and Pseudomonas. Clean Well is made from a renewable resource that is sustainably grown with no pesticides, irrigation or fertilizer and there are no toxic byproducts from the manufacturing process. Clean Well comes in a spray, as hand wipes and hand wash foam.  So for when you have a house full of sick kids or are cooking with chicken and want to kill germs, you now can avoid triclosan. 

To read more about triclosan check out the Environmental Working Group site where they give detailed information on the effects of triclosan on our health and the environment, what products contain triclosan and much, much more. 

Those germs don't look so bad anymore....you gonna give up your anti-bacterial soaps, or are you gonna to keep on using triclosan-based products? 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Crunchy Greenolas: Organic and Natural Personal Care Products


Crunchy Greenolas is my own personal review of new green stuff I’ve found- I’ve tried everything and these are the goods!

Kimberly Sayer of London - Kimberly Sayer is the daughter of organic farmer in England. Her family used fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs to create their own skin, body and home care items.  Using this knowledge, she went on to study aesthetics, aromatherapy and chemistry and then launched her own organic product line.  All Kimberly Sayer products are USDA certified organic.  I have been using the Hydrating Antioxidant Facial Mask, Gentle Almond and Lavender Face Scrub, Restore Anti-Aging Cream and Cellular Extract Eye Lift Gel for the past month and my skin has never felt better. In addition, my family and I have been using the Organic Family Sunblock SPF 25 and it appears to work great.  My 5-year-old says it stings his skin but he has severe excema.  It has been great for my 2 year old. Kimberly Sayer's products can be purchased at select Whole Foods Markets and via her website

• suki  - suki produces two lines of products, suki pure skin and sukicolor.   suki pure skin is a 100% pure and 90% organic skin and body line (lotions, moisturizers, cleansers, toners, and hair products) and sukicolor is a pure and organic makeup line. The company sources all of their ingredients from fair trade, organic, biodynamic processing and local suppliers whenever possible. The company takes into consideration fuel emissions, as well as certification, and transport when making its purchasing decisions. The ingredients are 100% natural, food grade (not cosmetic grade) ingredients so that the products are non-toxic and edible (not that you want to eat it!). In addition, suki uses only biodegradable ingredients that do not hurt animals or damage the ecosystem and no toxic ingredients such as petrochemicals, chemical fragrances and preservatives. All suki products are packaged in eco-friendly materials like recycled stock, printed with vegetable ink and b0ttled in glass containers. The company's website not only explains all the ingredients but also lists ingredients to avoid. Now I have not tried everything in the both product lines but what I did try I really liked. Products can be purchase directly from the suki website or search on the site for a retail location in your area. Products are pretty price but are worth it.


Artisan Naturals -- Started by Stephanie Barron, the mother of a child with allergies to synthetic fragrance and colorants, Artisan Naturals, is free of mineral oils, parabens and synthetic ingredients.  The product line includes cleaners, toners, moisturizers, mask and various skin treatments. In addition the company makes massage oils, candles and handcrafted soaps. The products are not certified organic but are made with organic ingredients and are all at least 99% natural. Artisan Naturals line can be purchase at a few speciality stories in the US and Europe in addition to the web via the company's site. Green Luvin' readers can receive 20% off the entire product line for the month of August by using the promotion code GRN08.

Rare2b  - All vegan, all natural, organic, 100% botanical, vegetal, marine ingredients from non-gmo sources, Rare2b products do not contain parabens, alcohol, peg & tea, synthetic chemicals, petroleum by-products, formaldehyde or formaldehyde donors and no animal by-products. All the ingredients come from sustainable fair trade sources in the Amazon Rain Forest to the South Australian Rain Forest, which the USDA permits in certified organic food. The products are certified organic by Eco-Cert, the Forest Stewardship Council with USDA Organic Certification, and Kosher by the Federation of Synagogues and approved by the Fair Trade Foundation. The line includes day and night cream, facial mask and body lotion and can be purchased on the Rare2b website.

• The Grapeseed Company -- Based in the Santa Barbara, California wine region, The Grapeseed Company produces eco-friendly bath & body products using expeller-pressed grape seed oil, a natural byproduct of the wine making process. According to the company, grape seed oil is rich in antioxidants and vitamins and helps fight free radical damage and signs of aging. The grape seed oils are naturally expeller-pressed instead of solvent extracted. All colors come from the natural ingredients; there are no artificial additives or filler ingredients and ingredients are sourced from local sources whenever possible. The entire ingredient list can be found on the website and all ingredients are between 70% to 90%+ organic. My husband has been using the organic shave and skin care line for men line called Mojito Man and loves it! I keep having him try out different organic shaving products and this is the first one that he has liked and plans on only using this product line from now on. The company also makes body scrubs, bath & massage oils, lotions, lip balms and candles. All products can be purchase via The Grapeseed Company's website.  Green Luvin' readers can receive 10% off the total order by using the code 10AGAIN at checkout. 

If you know of any Crunchy Greenolas that you would like me to review or just think are great, please let me know.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

ENDoutdoor: New sustainable trail shoes for the green outdoor enthusiast

Many people think that when you live in the suburbs you are only surrounded by tiny plots of land with mowed lawns and white picket fences. Well that is not so. I am very fortunate to live within a half mile of a forest reserve of more than 2,000 acres of undeveloped land. Twice a week my friend and I take an 1-1.5 hour hike -- no matter the weather, no matter the season, we hike. We take her dog and we go.

So I was really excited when I was offered the opportunity to test out a new brand of high-performance eco-friendly trail shoes.  Now I've seen ec0-friendly clothing and everyday footwear. Never before have I seen green footwear for athletic and fitness needs -- think Nau for the outdoor fitness enthusiast. 

Launching August 1st, ENDoutdoor (END) is a new sustainability company that is focused on designing outdoor gear that performs well without all the "bells & whistles"- no pumps or air cushions that don't really do anything.  By keeping it simple, END reduces components, material and manufacturing waste. END's stated goal is to reduce waste up to 59% in the first season compared to the top rate trail running shoes.  

Their trail shoes are made from renewable, sustainable or recycled (RSR) materials wherever possible. The company's goal is to reach 100% use of RSR in the next 3-5 yrs.  END shoes are being manufactured in China. China, I know what you are thinking, however, the company made a conscious decision by going to China. They believe that China was the best choice because they want to be part of the solution by working closely with its manufacturer to make the process as eco-friendly as possible.  END is teaching Chinese manufacturers how to produce environmentally, not just low-cost.  The company hopes this focus spreads beyond just the producing of END's shoes.

One of the most interesting features of END' manufacturing process is that all materials used to make the shoes are sourced within 1 hour of the production factory cutting down on transportation pollution. Additionally, all wastes are recycled back into the shoes, and the shoes are shipped in lightweight containers, cutting down on use of fuel for shipping. Importantly, END shoeboxes are made of recycled and recyclable material. 

So how do they actually perform in the field? I love them. I have been hiking in the END Stumptown 12 oz running shoes (pictured above) that I am told are 35-59% reduction of material, rubber, foam, resins and glues when compared to the top five trail shoe by Outside Magazine in 2007. From the feel, they sure seem like it. They are comfortable, light and stable. No fancy colors or logos. I even went hiking the other day with my husband and we took a new route. We had to cross a river that we both fell in. My END sneaks dried out in the the sun in about an hour and my husbands Adidas Sambas (not the best hiking shoes) were still wet that night!

END believes that they are taking a look at the entire lifecycle of the shoes, making each step as eco-friendly as possible. I asked if the company will have a recycling program for spent shoes. What they told me is they hope to implement one at some point, but there is no timeline in place yet.

ENDoutdoor's first product line includes seven lightweight trail-inspired running-training shoes for both men and women ranging in price from $60 -$90. The shoes are available online at both REI.com and Zappos.com in addition to more than 70 specialty footwear retailers nationwide and in Canada starting August 1.

If you are in the market for a new pair of trail/running shoes, I recommend checking them out. I plan on getting another pair for myself and think I may even get a pair for my husband so he does not have to hike in his Sambas!  

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gardening in the Suburbs: Keeping it Local

My family and I are strong believers in eating locally and organically.  In the late fall, winter and early spring, we get food deliveries from a services called Door-to-Door Organics and in the late spring, summer and fall we are members of a local CSA called Asbury Village Farm.  

However, the most local you can get is to grow in your own yard. One of the things my husband and I were excited about when we moved to the suburbs 5 years ago was to have our own vegetable garden.  However, as it happened, the house we bought has a backyard that is totally wooded -- almost 85% shade. Not very promising for tomatos and other veggies that need full sun. We could grow them in our front yard but these fruits and vegetables would be great eats for the plentiful deer, rabbits and groundhogs that inhabit our neighborhood (makes two liberals want to go out and get a gun!)

So after living in our town for about a year, we were going to the local playground with our son. We parked right in front of a community garden. The gate was opened and we walked in to see approximately 70 or so -- 10 feet x 15 foot plots--  filled with gorgeous vegetables, berries and flowers.  Wow, so cool -- we had find out how we could get a plot of our own. A small sign at the gate gave the address of the garden club that ran this community garden. My husband wrote a letter telling our story and requesting a plot to tend. While we waited to hear back we talked to everyone and anyone to find out who we could call t0 speed and influence the decision making process. I tracked down the woman who ran the club and we called her. We were told that there was a long waitlist for the garden and that someone had to give up their plot to for us to get one -- but once you get one you can keep it for life!  So,  disappointed, we waited.

Then one spring the phone call came. There was a plot opening up and it was ours if we wanted it. The garden organizer warned us that it was next to a tree and was shaded, but the last person who tended it had pretty good success growing tomatoes and other veggies. We jumped at the chance to grow our own food. That was three years ago and this summer we were given a second plot, this one in full sun.  

Our growing season this year has been awesome and our gardens include tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, peppers (a few variety), bok choy, broccoli, raspberries, beans, eggplant, asparagus, pumpkin, herbs, grapes and sunflowers.

What I think we like best about the entire experience, besides getting great tasting food, is how our children love it. They come to the garden and delight in how things are growing and graze on tomatoes, beans, raspberries and more. We believe that it is very important that our kids learn where their food comes from and how it gets to the table. We even took our 5 -year-old to our CSA farm to help weed, and he had a ball. He got meet the farmer and see the animals and taste the first heirloom tomato of the season. Bigger then a baseball, he ate the entire tomato like an apple (see photo above). Our kids will grow up knowing that food does not just come from the supermarket. They will understand from "farm to plate" not "store to plate." Hopefully this will encourage them to be both better eaters, and more adventurous ones too.

There was an article in the New York Times on July 22nd entitled "A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss." It talked about how people are paying someone to come to their house to plant, take care of and harvest an organic garden or they have their personal chefs buy local. Now that is great that they are eating this way but isn't that just keeping them removed from their food? They are "locavores" in action but not emotion.  

We grow it ourselves, and hopefully you'll find a small plot to try this out yourself.  Our next step is to try and store what we grow to enjoy the "fruit of our labor" throughout the winter.  I have been reading How to Store Your Garden Produce by Piers Warren to learn all about it. 

What's your experience with growing your own food?  Any good suggestions for storing for the winter?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Crunchy Greenolas: Organic and Sustainable Clothing















Tees For Change - "Sustainable tee on a mission, " this fun and inspiring t-shirt line is made from organic cotton and bamboo. Shirts are adorned with positive messages and affirmations such as "Today Matters" and "Live Mindfuly." The bamboo tees are so soft you will not want to take them off. The organic shirts are made in the USA and sustainable bamboo tees are made in Turkey without pesticides and are 100% biodegradable.  Tees for Change has partnered with American Forests' Global Releaf to plant a tree for every shirt purchase. Tees are $32.00 for men and women and tanks for women are $28.00 and can be purchased both online and in retail stores.

Greenici by Gramicci -- Gramicci, the outdoor lifestyle apparel manufacturer based in California, has an environmentally friendly clothing line called Greenici. The sustainable products are made from hemp, certified organic cotton or recycled materials – or blends of each – and includes items for men and women such as polos, shorts, t-shirts, skirts and pants. The clothes are casual and fun. (See image on right of a Greenici short sleeve button down organic shirt.)  Gramicci believes (and so should all of us) that we need to "Start Somewhere" meaning taking that first step to becoming more aware of our impact on the earth and another step towards making change. The Greenici line is the company's step towards making a change in providing consumers with a choice for purchase sustainable clothing. Prices range from $22.50 to $80 and can be purchased on their website, other online outlets including The Hempest and via retail locations.   

Oxygen Required  -- Oxygen Required is an eco-friendly lifestyle line for women.  The collections boast pieces made from bamboo and cotton. Bamboo fibers contain an agent that keeps bacteria from cultivating resulting in odor free clothing. The fabric is thermal regulating - keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. The fibers are porous in nature - bamboo absorbs, evaporates, and wicks away moisture. Derived from tropical grass grown on family owned farms, none of the fiber comes from forests, and the resulting material is biodegradable.  Of equal importance, the clothes feel great and look great. To purchase check out their site for retail and online stores.  


If you know of any Crunchy Greenolas that you would like me to review or just think are great, please let me know.  

Monday, June 30, 2008

Sustainable wine: Wolffer Estates

This week my husband wanted to take a crack a writing.  It is a subject that he is very fond of so I have taken the editor role and he is the writer.  Hope you all enjoy.  

Ok, I love wine. There I said it. I love it, and have a glass just about every night of the week -- partially because one or two glasses of red is good for lowering my cholesterol and partially because I just love the taste, the warming feel it gives in my belly. I don’t know all that much about wine, but know what I like and what I don’t.

Now you may not know who I am, but I’m Melissa’s husband (and editor) so I’m just about as much a nut when it comes to environmental issues as she is. Just about, but I do leave the occasional light on, and I do let the shower run to long in the morning before I get in so I’m not perfect.

I was really excited when Melissa told me that we had been invited to Wolffer Estates in Sagaponack, NY (The Hamptons) for a private tour and interview with the head winemaker and general manager, Roman Roth. Long Island wines have had a pretty spotty reputation, but a few vineyards are known for a consistent and quality product, and Wolffer is one of them. So needless to say I was psyched; I’d get to taste some really nice wines, and talk with someone who is VERY knowledgeable about winemaking.

Until now, I thought my nightly wine drinking necessitated me breaking my environmental vows. But I discovered from our visit to Wolffer, the vineyard is not only known for their reputation for good wine but for their sustainable wine growing/making practices.

Wine making on Long Island has a relatively short history. On Long Island alone there are more than 43 vineyards (according to the Long Island Wine Council). These winemakers cover nearly 3,000 acres and produce upwards of 4,000 tons of grapes a year. So for a small area, Long Island produces a lot of wine, employs a lot of people, and generates a lot of revenue. The first commercial vineyard was planted in 1973, and Wolffer’s first vines were planted in 1987. Wolffer has two area’s planted, one covering 50 acres (which we visited) and another 20 planted on the North Fork of the island. The vineyard produces around 15,000 cases of wine a year. Wolffer is not the only sustainable vineyard on Long Island, there are 7 others, but it’s among the most vocal in touting its farming practices.

Now before I get to the wine, let me take a moment to explain what sustainable growing practices are or “Sustainable Agriculture”.  According to the University of California, Davis: “Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals--environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance. Stewardship of human resources includes consideration of social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of laborers, the needs of rural communities, and consumer health and safety both in the present and the future. Stewardship of land and natural resources involves maintaining or enhancing this vital resource base for the long term.”

Why should you or I care if the wine we are drinking is grown sustainably? As a consumer, and someone who cares about environmental and health issues, we can make purchasing decisions that encourage the type of practices we all want to see used.

While the definition of sustainable agriculture is constant, the method varies from region to region, reflecting differences in soil and crop, climate and management styles. For the grape growers of New York State, it’s a process by which growers choose practices that are environmentally responsible while still maintaining the economic viability of the business. Some methods include efficient use of equipment, maintaining soil health and vine nutrition and managing vines for improved pest control.

Roman told us that Wolffer had not used any insecticides in eight years. This was both due to the fact that there hadn’t been any major outbreaks of bugs in the region and that the vineyard has made a decision to farm sustainably. Pests can kill a crop. Fungus can destroy both a crop and the vines themselves. To protect against fungus, Wolffer doesn’t use industrial fungicides, rather Roman sprays his vines with Stylet-Oil. “Stylet-Oil is a food grade, high purity mineral oil. It has had impurities removed through additional distillation steps involving high pressure and steam, leaving a tech white mineral oil-similar to Johnson's Baby Oil. Additional ingredients include emulsifying materials blended into the oil allowing it to mix with water,” according to Jeff Symons President of JMS Flower Farms (makers of Stylet-Oil).

While walking between the rows of Chardonnay grapes, Roman showed us the way the vines had been planted. Amazingly Wolffer had been designed to focus not on increasing yield, but rather increasing the viability of the overall vineyard. Every other season, Wolffer field-hands plant mustard and clover plants in between ever other row of vines to help mitigate pest. There are four acres of wildflowers planted to encourage bees to visit the vineyard to assist in pollination.

Well over the course of an hour talking with Roman we discussed Wolffer’s commitment to sustainable farming while sipping some truly nice and memorable wines.

We started off with the Wolffer Rosé from 2007. As we sat outside, on their covered patio, overlooking the vineyard, Melissa and I were treated to a very nice, crisp Rosé with just enough fruit to keep it honest. Neither of us expected to like this refreshing wine, as we both tend to like full-bodied reds to blended, chilled whites. But, it was hot, it had taken us nearly 2 hours (in Hamptons traffic) to get to Wolffer and this Rosé really took the bite off the heat.

I asked Roman if Wolffer had chosen to farm sustainably for economic or marketing reasons. Roman stated quickly that for Wollfer “…this is a decision made from a healthy vineyard perspective. This is the right approach to keeping a healthy vineyard, to keeping it alive with its own bio dynamic.” Roman explained that while it might cost a bit more to farm in this fashion, with a tunnel sprayer to collect the drippings from any sprayed fertilizer or stylet oil to keep fungus outbreaks down, that long-term it made better economic and environmental sense for Wolffer.

As Roman poured us our second glass of wine, a sparkling Brut Cuvee from 2004 the talk turned to whether or not Wolffer was an organic vineyard. Turns out it is not, but this might not be such a bad thing according to Roman, “By keeping very neat rows and open canopies we have less fungus pressure. We are not organic but, we try to do as much as possible. You have to work your way towards organic and sustainable farming. You can’t just do it over night…well you can, but you’ll make horrible wine, and that’s not in anyone’s best interest.” And in this instance the proof of this fact was in the tasting. This champagne-style wine was excellent – sharp, but not bitter, crisp with a bit of apple taste to it, and very drinkable. Continuing on the discussion of Wolffer’s organic goals, Roman told us it was a possibility but not a guarantee.

After a walk through the rows of vines we went back to the patio for our final glass of wine of the afternoon, a truly impressive Merlot from 2004. Now this was more to our tastes. The wine was bold for a Merlot, with a strong flavor of berries and a smoky, coffee flavor. As the final taste of the afternoon, we settled in to enjoy the sun, the view (Wolffer’s tasting room/patio is one of the most beautiful I’ve been in) and finish our conversation about the value of sustainable viticulture. Roth summarized the entire sustainable winemaking philosophy perfectly, “You have you to be a steward for all of this (the environment), this has to last for hundreds of years, and this sustainable movement is helping us both today, and tomorrow.”

If you are every in the Hamptons, I suggest stopping at Wolffer Estates tasting room. Sit on the patio looking at the beautiful vineyard while drinking some really good wine that has been produced in manner that is not only good for you but the environment.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Recycling Does A Milk Carton Good

I was reading a recent issue of National Geographic's The Green Guide (Spring 2008) and on the last page of the magazine was an image hundreds of milk cartons lining a street to demonstrate how much milk American's consume. The image was taken from National Geographic Channel documentary Human Footprint.  

According to the movie, America consumes 989,985,594,240 half gallons of milk over the course of a lifetime and it takes more than one trillion kilowatt-hours of energy to produce, ship and landfill the milk cartons.  That amount of energy emits 740,674,244 tons of greenhouse gases.  Amazingly, only a tiny fraction of the cartons are recycled.   

That got me thinking.  How many milk cartons does my household go through over a short period of time, say a week? More importantly, why are milk cartons not recycled? They are made of paper aren't they? Even more puzzling is the fact that on the side of some of the cartons I buy, it says "please recycle".  I want to, but my town will not take them. So I decided to do some research on how to recycle a milk carton, and why my town won't do it.  I thought the information would be readily available.  I was wrong.

Initially I was going to save my cartons for one week, assuming this would be plenty of time to get enough information to write on the subject. Well, do a "Google" search on "milk carton recycling" and you will basically come up with... nothing. Four weeks and 30 cartons later, I am finally writing about it. 

This is what I discovered...

Milk cartons ARE recyclable, however, according to an EPA report of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) provided to me by the National Recycling Coalition, in 2006, 510,000 tons of milk cartons were generated in the United States and less than 0.05% (5,000 tons) were recycled.

In 2006, only a little more than 550 towns across the country recycled milk cartons (source: Organic Valley).  To put this into perspective, there are 556 municipalities in New Jersey. Doing a non-scientific search on the internet of various towns across the country, I discovered you cannot recycle milk cartons in San Diego, DC, the entire state of Pennslyvania, Los Angeles and Austin but you can in New York City and Boulder, CO.

But why?

According to Ed Skernolis, Policy and Program Director for the National Recycling Coalition, "Milk cartons, because of the wax lining, are not universally recycled. Each locality is different, depending on their recycling processing capability. Some communities may allow milk cartons to go into composting/food waste bins if offered."

Boulder, Colorado's Eco-Cycle is the most progressive recycling program in the country. They do recycle milk and juice cartons. Dan Matsch, Manager for the Center for Hard Recycle Materials, Eco-Cycle, said that milk cartons are very good source for recycled paper because the fiber are long, however, they have a plastic coating which sometimes makes it difficult to recycle.  According to Matsch, the main reason that many municipalities do not recycle milk/juice cartons is that they need to be rinsed out which rarely happens.  Once the cartons get to the recycling center they get bailed and shipped (usually by truck, then boat) and by the time they reach their destination for recycling they are "ripe" or partially composted.  

Boulder has dedicated significant resources towards education to teach the community and kids in school the importance of recycling.  The city has been involved in recycling education in the school system for 21 years!  Students are involved...they even have milk carton monitors to make sure that the leftover is poured out prior to placing in the recycling bin.  

Most milk cartons, such as those sold by Organic Valley, are made by Tetra Pak. Tetra Pak manufactures two types of cartons: gable-top and aseptic cartons. The first ones are the chilled cartons, mainly for milk and orange juice. The aseptic ones are used for a variety of food products and have shelf life of up to 12 months without the need of refrigeration or preservatives. They rely on three things: packaging material (six layers of protection), UHT (ultra high temperature) food processing and aseptic filling machines. UHT, or Ultra High Temperature treatment takes place in optimised heat exchangers before packaging. This process minimizes heat penetration problems and allows very short heating and cooling times, at the same time minimizing unwanted changes in the taste and nutritional properties of the product.

One of the biggest challenges with carton recycling is generating volume enough for the recycling chain to make a profit out of recycling cartons. According to Tetra Pak, as recycling is a business, all players are looking for sustainable business: from the recycling facilities to the tissue mills. Tetra Pak has been working with cities and schools across the country to increase milk and juice carton recycling.

Ok, all of this is good and well right?  But, it begs an important question, which is better, milk cartons or plastic ones?  According to Organic Valley, "Plastic is easier to recycle, but is oil based. Paperboard is made mostly of a renewable material paper." Matsch of Boulder's Eco-Cycle believes that "Tetra Pak beats the pants off anything in terms of carbon foodprint. Tetra Paks are very space efficient, using less square feet for shipping, however, they do need to be refrigerated."

Where does the recycled paper go?  To one of the biggest paper companies in the world, Weyerhaeuser. Weyerhaeuser is one of the largest pulp an paper company in the world. In addition, the company collects and recycles wastepaper, boxes, and newsprint to make new products. According to Pete Grogan, Manager of Market Development for Weyerhaeuser Recycling, "We [Weyerhaeuser] accept Tetra Pak and gable top containers (milk) for recycling. In our case, we produce recycled content newsprint from these materials in addition to using old newspapers and magazines as a feedstock."

Ok.  This is a ton of information to swallow. So lets take a quick moment to put it all into perspective. We all consume a ton of milk.  If you're a mom like me, you're practically swimming in the white stuff. If you're reading this you care deeply about both the environment and a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. And, after reading all this you're probably a bit confused on what to do.

Here's my conclusions:

(1) Paper cartons are WAY better than plastic.  They are healthier for your you and kids, and have a much smaller carbon footprint to produce and ship than plastic ones.
(2) Paper can be recycled, so each one of us needs to petition, lobby and work to get out towns and cities to recycle these cartons.  If we each do a little, we'll all add up to a lot of impact.
(3) Read more, learn more and educate more.  Every little bit helps, and my month-long odyssey to learn about this issue has taught me a great deal.  But I have a lot more to learn.  As I do, I'll let you all know.

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