Hi, I’m Joan Read. Always an environmentalist at heart, I’m passionate about our Earth and healthy living. I’m also an avid hiker, traveler, and forever curious. I embarked on a healthy lifestyle over 40 years ago. I now live in the small community of Boonville, MO (USA) where I started Pick-Up Boonville in 2011, our annual litter and recyclables event. In 2013, I started “Beyond Pick-Up Boonville”, a weekly column in the local paper where I share diverse topics, all things related to the environment, which is just about everything. Through my blog, I will share many of those articles, along with additional thoughts, and interesting articles I come across while staying informed.
Days past, kids were happy with a gift or two for Christmas and basked in the joys of creating gifts for their loved ones. In most households, those days are long gone. Now most houses are filled with Stuff; neglected toys spill into all rooms of the house. According to the American Psychological Association, children see at least 40,000 advertisements a year. Kids haven’t developed filters, leaving them highly susceptible to advertising. Easily convinced they need the “hottest” toy on the market, they do whatever it takes to eventually wear down their parents so they buy it. And, they not only want Stuff, they are also convinced they need to gather money to buy Stuff for their loved ones as well – a well rounded Consumer.
All this shopping has taken a toll on our families. 2015 Federal Reserve reports show Americans have 918.5 billion credit card debt averaging $7529 per household. No doubt, debt causes stress. Although it may be hard to stop or circumvent the tidal wave of consumerism, there are other options – lots of them.
For starters, thinking about those less fortunate fosters the true meaning of Christmas. In the spirit of giving back, the family might want to volunteer at a food bank or other organizations serving those in need. As an annual tradition, the family could join forces, sort through their belongings, and make a donation. Outgrown or unused items find new life through organizations serving those in need. Maybe enjoy a beautiful day together outside on a family pick-up litter outing. Through giving, the spirit of gratitude and compassion grow.
As for family gifts, with a simple Google search, one can find a myriad of presents kids will enjoy making for their loved ones. To add to the fun, they might need your help! As for gifts for the kids, it won’t be the “hottest” toy, but second hand stores are filled with fun, interesting and stimulating gifts. Expand their world and vision with nature related gifts. Or consider a gift of experience, perhaps a class to boost a natural ability, or a family outing. Above all, remember Time is the most precious gift of all. Stuff inevitably loses it’s luster, while quality time with a loved one keeps on giving.
Consider these lofty goals – promote healthy and diverse ocean ecosystems, restore sustainable American fisheries and protect wildlife from human impact. In 1972, Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group took on such a challenge. These champions help formulate ocean policy on both the federal and state government levels.
Naturally, litter was a major concern. By 1989 an International Coastal Cleanup annual event took shape, now the world’s largest all-volunteer clean-up event for the ocean with activities held around every major body of water. Last year alone, 561,895 volunteers picked up and cataloged over 16 million pounds of trash along 13,360 miles of coastlines and waterways.
Ocean Conservancy focuses on waterways litter as it “compromises the health of humans, wildlife and the livelihoods that depend on a healthy ocean; threatens tourism and recreation, and the critical dollars they add to our local economies; complicates shipping and transportation by causing navigation hazards; and generates steep bills for retrieval and removal.”
Capturing the flow of trash at the source is especially critical before it escapes and joins the bulk of the trash lying unseen beneath the surface. Ocean Conservancy estimates 5-12 million tons of plastic enters our waterways annually from land-based sources, over 80% of the ocean plastic. During their annual event, volunteers not only rid our coastlines of trash, they tally and identify the worst litter offenders, providing a global snapshot of the marine debris littering our coasts and waterways around the world. Last year’s top ten items offenders:
1 – Cigarette butts
2 – Food wrappers
3 – Plastic beverage bottles
4 – Plastic bottle caps
5 – Straw, stirrers
6 – Other plastic bags
7 – Plastic grocery bags
8 – Glass beverage bottles
9 – Beverage cans
10 – Plastic cups and plates
While we in the United States are the top producer of waste per capita, Ocean Conservancy has found emerging countries, experiencing rapid economic growth, are the highest producers of plastic marine waste. Recent studies indicate five countries alone (China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) produce 60 percent of the marine plastic entering our oceans. Unfortunately their waste-management infrastructures haven’t kept up with their excessive waste as their plastic and plastic-intensive goods have grown exponentially. Improved collection infrastructure will be critical or a commonly quoted projection could come true – by 2025, the ocean could contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish.
As global citizens, we all benefit from healthy oceans. We can contribute by containing our trash, picking up litter, not tossing cigarette butts and asking our friends to join us. Our watershed goes directly into the Missouri River, then to the Mississippi River and on to the ocean. We can form a clean-stream team, join Pick-Up Boonville and Missouri River Relief efforts, practice Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle principles, avoid single-use disposal items and plastics when possible, pick up along ocean beaches during our travels, vote in forward-thinking leaders that prioritize our environment, and donate to environmental champions including Ocean Conservancy. It’s a symbiotic relationship – when we take care of the environment, it takes care of us.
The tobacco industry paved the way for ignoring our scientists. Unable to deny their product was both addictive and harmful, they casted doubt, ridiculing doctors and scientists who spoke out. In1998, they admitted they had lied and paid billions in law suits, miniscule considering their addicted customers and ongoing profits. Now they are casting doubt on the dangers of second hand smoke. Again doctors are speaking up; this time the majority is no longer gullible. Now 34 US states have state-wide 100% smoke-free indoor air laws for worksites and 33 communities in Missouri have enacted comprehensive smoke-free ordinances. Such ordinances result in reduced cigarette sales and healthier communities. Now the cigarette state excise tax median is $1.53, ranging from $4.35 to the lowest rate in the nation, Missouri’s seventeen cents. As for heeding the warnings our doctors, unfortunately Missouri and our local Boonville City Council aren’t pursuing a smoke-free ordinance.
Other industries saw the power of dismissing our scientists and casting doubt. Now documents confirm as early as the seventies the oil industry knew their product was harming our environment. Initially, politicians across both party lines united, ready to take on this challenge. Not to be bothered, the oil industry chose to cast doubt, bringing all progress to a halt. For years the industry has been bullying the public and politicians. They now fuel doubt with fear, claiming reducing carbons will impede progress. Sadly, our Environment, once revered and shared by all, has now become a partisan issue. Ignoring our scientist’s warnings, politicians continually attempt to weaken our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and overthrow the environmental laws put in place to protect us, a dangerous practice indeed.
In stark contrast, other countries value and benefit from their scientists. Last year all the world leaders united and developed the Paris Agreement. All agreed, Climate Change is a world-wide problem and ambitious goals and immediate actions are needed to minimize further damage and suffering. Glacier melt, rising oceans and erratic weather patterns make it hard to ignore. Staunch deniers are slowly admitting Climate Change is real but maintain humans aren’t the cause; those scientists have a sinister agenda! If we had simply followed our scientist’s advice over 45 years ago, not only would we have prevented great human suffering and environmental damage world-wide, we would now be thriving with a healthy robust clean renewables economy meeting all our energy needs. Instead we are left with an escalating problem difficult to reverse.
Meanwhile a small Central American nation, Costa Rica, takes the lead generating 99% of their electricity from renewables in 2015; 100% so far this year. These visionaries are clearly on target to meet their goal to be free of fossil fuels in just five years. More reasons to embrace our scientists next week.
Many industries have enjoyed great influence and profits by following the tobacco and oil industries lead. It has now become common practice for many to value industry’s opinions over our scientists. In the seventies, the chemical, plastic and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) industries all exploded with very little oversight. While our lifespan was increasing due to new medical advances, sadly that is now no longer true. In the 1900s, the top causes of death were pneumonia or flu, tuberculosis and gastrointestinal infections; now 50% of our deaths are due to heart disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases.
Scientists and doctors warn us about exposure to thousands of chemicals, cigarettes, GMO products, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, and processed foods. Yet when the overwhelming majority requested transparent GMO labeling laws, our Congress chose to cater to the GMO industry, dismissing our scientists and the public majority. Our leaders remain complacent accepting health compromising chemicals and products as a given, favoring treatment research over prevention.
The environmental scientists warn us about our over-consumptive habits. They say we are putting future generations at risk dipping into resources they will sorely need. They cry we are polluting our soils, air, waterways and food with too many chemicals, and plastics. They tell us chemicals are killing our much needed pollinators (Monarch butterflies and bees); soaking our crops, seeds, yards and gardens with dangerous pesticides and herbicides like neonics and glyphosate (e.g. Round Up) are causing great harm. They warn us industry is compromising our aquifers and waterways with sloppy extraction/production, and reoccurring oil/fracking/chemical leaks and spills. They caution us we are generating and improperly disposing a wide array of hazardous waste. Then say ever prevalent toxic Styrofoam is compromising our soil, waterways, and wildlife, and overflowing our landfills. Scientific warnings are dismissed. Scientists have developed innovative “Zero Waste” strategies, solutions widely ignored in the United States. While industry could eliminate toxins, and financially benefit by reducing and reusing their waste, they don’t bother. As long as industry isn’t held accountable for their waste, they will continue to vie for more lax environmental laws. Meanwhile, their pollution becomes our problem as the general public.
Fortunately, scientists aren’t only warning us, they continue their research and offer alternatives. To benefit from our scientists – we need to listen and value their opinions. With change comes opportunity. In the same way I trust my doctor, I always choose to believe our scientists. Out of great reverence for our beautiful Earth, nature and the people around me, I’m glad we have our scientist watch-dogs. If we don’t heed their advice, I fear we and future generations are doomed! It’s time for a revolution!
Always with my environmental hat in tow, we explored the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico’s last spring. As in past years, there was litter strewn about throughout; although the touristy Playa del Carmen did have a few “litter crews” grooming the beaches and parks, making them much more pleasing. I’m guessing all that retrieved litter is a combination of surf offerings and sloppy beach loungers.
While visiting Progreso, a more obscure beach town frequented by Mexicans, litter crews didn’t exist, so we picked up along a mile stretch of the beach. This was obviously not typical of tourists as we received varied responses – stares, thank yous, and a couple children even helped us! Although a valiant effort, we eventually just concentrated on the worst offenders – all things plastic – straws, bottle caps, 6-pack rings, forks, and plastic bags. At least for a period of time, those birds won’t mistake plastic as food along that stretch!
Some of the more touristy cities offered public recycling; otherwise, it appeared recycling opportunities were limited. Although, recycling appears to be happening, as it was common to see older women or men digging through the trash harvesting recyclables. Drinking tap water is questionable, so we always buy bottled water in Mexico. Given the dearth of recycling opportunities, at least while we traveled by car we toted along a returnable 5 gallon container of water, filling our smaller bottles. We also noticed, when beer bottles weren’t twist-offs, those bottles were returned and refilled.
As for wildlife, while it was quite different to not see squirrels, rabbits or deer, other animals filled the void. We saw our first coatis from the raccoon family, camouflaged iguanas throughout, and many colorful birds. One highlight was boating through the mangroves along the protected bio-reserves where we saw flocks of Caribbean Pink Flamingos – thousands of them! They were even more mesmerizing when I relinquished the camera! We embarked on this amazing experience from Rio Lagartos where many guides await to fill their boats with nature enthusiasts every morning.
The bio-reserves boat trip included a chance to experience a Mayan mud bath. Of course, I was all in. First we floated a bit in a salty water reserve to open our pours, then we lathered ourselves with mud, and garnished the look with a mud crown and mangrove leaves. I was promised I would then look much younger!!
We enjoyed a vast variety of colorful fish along with beautiful sponges, corals and fan while snorkeling off a beach in Cozumel; experiencing the second largest barrier reef system in the world. The Meso-American reef system spans between the Gulf of Mexico and Honduras – almost 175 miles. As for beach walking, the white powdery sand and the clear turquoise waters went on for miles!
Interestingly, there are no above ground rivers on the Yucatan peninsula since the upper layer is soft limestone. Instead there is a large web of fresh underground rivers forming caves and cenotes, natural pits or sinkholes formed when the limestone bedrock collapses, making for great swimming holes. Mexico is filled with amazing Maya archaeological sites. While there are many amazing Yucatan archaeological ruins, most notable the largest Chichen Itzas and the beautiful coastal ruin of Tulum, we had already seen them so this year we just visited a small ruin we happened upon the way – Xcambo, a major salt provider for the Mayan Empire.
While traveling around Mexico, we typically travel by public bus with the locals, but this year we rented a car for a spell so we could take a closer look at the coastline, countryside and colonial villages. Mexican villages always have a local gathering point in the middle of town – the central plaza bordered by a block-long massive ancient church on one side and their municipality building on another. During the evenings, the plaza always buzzes with activity; people watching at it’s finest.
As always, we enjoy sampling local culinary fare. We enjoyed pescado (fish) almost daily, fresh squeezed orange juice, avocados, mangos, lime peanuts, and Mexican pastries. We always visit the local Central Mercado overflowing with fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, spices, cornmeal, and everything imaginable. While big box stores are slowing gaining a foot-hold throughout Mexico, there are always ample shoppers swarming the Central Mercados and small Tiendas (small corner stores) about. Sadly, once quite common panaderias, neighborhood bakeries, are becoming harder to find. Central plazas and beaches are generally filled with merchants selling a wide variety of food and such. Some balance a tray of goods on their head, while others have carts propelled by muscle power or a small motor. It appears the economy is doing much better as we notice nicer cars and now it’s less common to see small children sell Chiclets for a few Pecos.
Although we enjoy eating outside, at times we retreated inside for air conditioning. We are thrilled smoke-free dining is becoming common-place all throughout Mexico. While visiting Holbox Island, we thanked a cigarette butt picker-upper, diligently digging through the sand capturing those toxic butts. He proudly, and sadly, showed us several two-liter bottles filled with butts. As it turned out, he had a small restaurant, as in a small shack and modest outside grill, where he whipped up one of our tastiest meals of the trip!
While Mexico is trying desperately to protect their heritage, corn, there is much pressure to accept GMO corn. Mexico has much to lose as corn originated in Mexico and the Mesoamerican region. At risk is their biodiversity and cross contamination, more than 60 indigenous varieties. Corn is central to Mexican culture; corn tortillas or chips are served with every meal. After two years of 93 appeals from the Biotech Industry, Mexico’s 2013 ruling banning GMO corn was sadly overturned last fall, now in the appeal process. Opponents have many concerns – loss of biodiversity, culture, and health concerns due to pesticide exposure in their air, food and waterways.
Pemex gas stations dot the landscape, Mexico’s state-owned energy provider. While Pemex has been the only company allowed to develop their oil and gas for years, just recently this industry has opened up to private sector investors. Mexico’s goal is to generate 35 percent of their total electricity from clean sources by 2025. Roof-top black passive solar water tanks are quite common, but we didn’t see any windmills and only an occasional solar panel. Perhaps they are conflicted, as I have read Pemex provides one-third of their federal funds. Given Mexico’s apparent abundance of wind, solar and geothermal potential, renewables could be a boon for the economy, environment and people alike.
Say a single-use plastic bottle someway becomes litter – Imagine the possible journey of this misplaced item. Best case scenario – you or I are strolling along, see it, and grab it. It gets recycled and perhaps turns up again recycled into a nice fleece vest with a new life. Or if it stays visible until March, maybe a participant of our local effort, Pick Up Boonville, snatches it and sends it to the recycling stream.
If not, perhaps the wind blows it to a storm drain or a river bank, when it rains it could flow into the Missouri River. There is a slight chance someone from the Missouri River Relief effort retrieves it. During their 15th year in 2015, 1508 Volunteers removed 41 tons of trash along 57 miles of the river! One year, after a 600 mile journey, a plastic Sioux Falls, South Dakota restaurant cup was rescued during the Hartsburg Missouri River Relief clean-up effort.
Or perhaps it rains for days either here or up-river, the river rises and deposits the bottle somewhere further inland where it remains for hundreds of years, or perhaps it lands on an island where someone finds it. Or maybe the river rises again and meets it, lodges it out of the mud and sends it further downstream. Maybe a boater will grab it or it could be so full of mud it simply sinks to the bottom of the Missouri River remaining there for hundreds of years. Say it continues floating, and makes it to the Mississippi River. Maybe one of Chad’s Mississippi River Clean Up participant will run across it. (This organization has been picking up now for 25 years!) Or perhaps someone with a river home near Natchez, Mississippi will grab that bottle. If all fails, it could float all the way past New Orleans into the Gulf of Mexico and join gravitate to the North Atlantic Gyre, a swirling pool filled with all things plastic. Once there it could find its way to one of the five oceanic gyres – swirling heaps of garbage. If we were on the west side of the Continental Divide, it could make its way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the size of Texas!
Then I think back to the beginning of this journey. If we had bottle deposit laws or if that individual used a reusable water bottle instead, the journey would never have begun. So, if you see a discarded plastic water bottle, don’t let it get away – Grab it!
While I’m sparing everybody the horrible visuals of the unfortunate turtles saddled with wayward straws stuck up their nose, I do want to share this consumption visual – the number of straws used daily in the United States could circle our planet more than two-and-a-half times a day – 500 million straws! While it’s easy to mindlessly take those “free” straws, they come at a high price. This seemingly innocuous straw has significant environmental impact – Extracting resources, distribution, polluting our oceans and crowding our landfills.
In the early 1900s straws, made of paper and rye, became common due to the fear of polio and tuberculosis being transmitted from shared glasses. In the mid-1950s as cars became popular, fast food restaurants soon graced our roadways. Fast-food restaurants replaced glass with low-cost disposable packaging for meals and made straws commonplace accompanying drinks on the go. By 1960, those renewable paper straws were replaced with plastic, a petroleum product. To gain a strong foothold, straws were heavily marketed as “convenient” and a way to reduce illness exposure from improperly washed containers. With people eating more meals on the go, straws fling into our environment. Now, consider the implications of twenty minutes of convenience.
More demand for straws means more production, more oil and gas extraction, more electricity for production, and more gas to both ship materials to plastic manufacturers and to deliver straws to the consumer. So, more carbon emissions and pollution for a now commonplace product we rarely “need”.
There are also health implications. Like most plastics, those straws contain Bisphenol A (BPA) which mimics the activity of hormones in the body, such as estrogen, linked to many serious health risks.
With all single-use disposable products, comes the disposal end. Plastic straws are rarely recycled; they don’t biodegrade so they stay around and accumulate. According to Ocean Conservancy, straws and stirrers were the fifth most common marine plastic debris found during their 2015 coastal cleanup (cigarette butts #1). Researchers estimate 90% of our marine life and seabirds have now ingested plastics.
Luckily, this is an environmental menace we can easily avoid. If you don’t need a straw, don’t use one. When eating out, simply say “no straw please” or have more of an impact by requesting the restaurant or bar only serve straws upon request. While some restaurants have switched back to paper straws, best case practices is to avoid all unnecessary disposables. If you like straws or have a physical disability requiring one, consider buying reusable stainless steel, glass, or bamboo straws. At the very minimum, at least buy paper straws – yes, they are still out there.
If by chance, my powers of persuasion are lacking, I challenge you to Google “sea turtle plastic straw” and see the consequences of one wayward plastic straw – It’s horrifying. If for no other reason, say “no to the straw” to save our marine life. With this one single action, we will all enjoy a much cleaner environment – our air, land and oceans.
Last fall we were so excited to score fresh scallops harvested from the seashores of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We generally travel on the cheap preparing our own meals, so I was exhilarated when we scored my favorite fish at the local Seafood Market in Ocracoke. Further up the road we replenished our fresh veggies at The Fresh Market, anticipating a wonderful “local” meal.
As I was cooking, I decided to see exactly where our food came from. After all, pretty much everything is at arm’s reach in our RV. Local meal? Not so much. First our salad – cherry tomatoes were from Peru, the romaine lettuce and baby carrots from California, and cauliflower from Canada. Our balsamic salad dressing was from Connecticut and my favorite balsamic glaze was a product of Italy. Fortunately, later in the trip we ran across several Farmers Markets so we then enjoyed local, fresher and tastier salads.
As a side dish we had my favorite – asparagus. We were in a hurry, it was reasonably priced and not packaged in Styrofoam so I grabbed it and ran. Turns out it was a “Fairly Traded” product also from Peru. We also snagged a locally baked wild berry pie, which was wonderful! Although we had already eaten most of the food I brought along, we complimented our meal with nine grain bread from Uprise Bakery from close to home.
Looking closer, for lunch we had wonderful red pepper humus from Asheville, NC, from earlier in our travels, organic blue tortilla chips from Texas, Planter’s Mixed Nuts from Illinois, and Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered espresso beans (our traveling companion) from California.
For breakfast we had Chiquita bananas from Guatamala, along with Kashi 7 Whole Grain Nuggets and Trader Joes Multigrain O’s Cereal from California, covered with yummy honey from Walther’s Farm south of my home town and organic milk from Wisconsin. To wake us up, we drank Altura Organic Fair Trade Columbian coffee with organic half & half from Oregon.
Although we strive to eat healthy foods, in one day we managed to eat food from six countries – Canada, Columbia, Guatemala, Italy, Peru, and the United States from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin and just a couple local foods from North Carolina. Now that was a carbon intensive day! I’ve read food typically travels an average of 1500 miles before reaching one’s plate. Seems mine could have been even further! Seems we need to be more diligent both on and off the road!
While it’s easy to feel quite small in this huge world we live in, I try to be mindful, striving to live positively as I interact with people and the Earth. I realize something as simple as a smile might lift someone’s spirits. I also take great efforts to live and consume conservatively, as our environment is fragile and our natural resources limited. While it’s always important to Refuse, Reduce and Reuse first, when I look at the numbers I’m astounded by the positive influence of just One Recycler.
When I recycle a single aluminum can, I save enough energy to power a TV for three hours. The average American has the opportunity to recycle more than 25,000 cans in a lifetime! It takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to make it from raw materials and a recycled can typically is back on the grocery shelves within 60 days.
By recycling one plastic bottle, you save enough energy to power a 60-watt bulb for six hours. And if you recycle one glass jar, you could save enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. Just one! It takes 70% less energy to recycle plastic than to produce it from raw materials and 40% less energy for glass.
Now consider paper. The average American use about 680 pounds of paper per year, over a ton in less than four years. Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 thirty foot (pulp) trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. This represents a 65% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution.
According to 2011 EPA figures, an average American generates 4.7 pounds per person per day and 75% of that is reusable or recyclable. What a great opportunity to conserve energy, reduce air and water pollution, reduce greenhouse gases, and conserve our natural resources while creating jobs.
Once you start recycling and realize your positive contribution, you will likely teach your children and tell your friends. From there your positive influence grows exponentially. Never ever underestimate the Power of One!
It’s complicated. Shopping by one’s conscience takes more time, thought, research and label scrutinizing – pain staking yes, but a worthy challenge. These are factors I consider –
*Second-Hand – Hand’s down, this is the most eco-friendly shopping practice of all. Producing fewer products reduces environmental damage, and reuse minimizes waste, averting valuable resources away from our landfill. While shopping second-hand, sometimes I flex my other criteria. Swap meets are becoming a thing! My daughter recently helped with a community Stop ‘N’ Swap event in New York City. I always enjoy all the laughter, and stories as we model and promote our wares seeking a new owner during smaller swap parties among friends.
*Buy what I need – By avoiding impulsive shopping, I minimize my carbon foot-print. I’m rewarded by saving both time and money. Focusing on “need” helps one avoid the emotional therapy shopping trap.
*Made in the USA/Shop Local when purchasing “new” items – Certainly challenging, buying as locally as possible minimizes transporting carbon spewing cargo ships and trucks, keep jobs in the USA, and stops supporting companies that gravitate to countries with lax environmental and labor laws.
*Produce – Grow yourself, or buy at Farmer’s Markets. When purchasing organics, I consult the Environmental Work Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen groups to get more bang for my buck. Buying in season reduces transportation emissions when produce isn’t transported from countries all over the world. Frequently cited, food travels an average of 1500 miles from farmer to consumer in the United States.
*Fair trade/Eco-conscious companies – I always start my day with a strong cup of fair trade coffee. Knowing those working in the fields aren’t over-worked and underpaid enhances my enjoyment. While considering products, I frequently consult the Good Guide , as their scientists have rated over 250,000 products on a zero to ten scale rating their health, environment and social impact.
*Quality – I will pay extra for products I that will last longer and always purchase energy efficient appliances.
*Buy Healthy Food – Again challenging, I try to avoid processed foods, unhealthy chemicals (additives, preservatives, food coloring), and hormone fed animals and their byproducts. I also avoid products made with genetically modified (GMO) ingredients which are unfortunately very prevalent and unlabeled. If you want to see more healthy options available on our local grocery shelves, speak up.
*Avoid Environmentally Damaging Products – Styrofoam, plastic water bottles, cleaning products with toxic chemicals, heavily packaged products, disposables, single-serve products and healthcare products with micro-beads. With Good Guide’s assistance and lots of research, I am replacing old standbys with healthier products – shaving cream, toothpaste, sunscreen, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner.
Embrace Consumer Power – When we consciously choose where we spend money, we have the opportunity to support businesses and companies that reflect our values. Many times those “bargains” come at too high of a price to the environment and workers.
If your method of waste disposal is burning, it’s time to rethink those practices. Not only are you exposing yourself to pollutants, you are also putting family and neighbors at risk. Children, the elderly and those with preexisting respiratory conditions are especially vulnerable. Those airborne toxins also contaminate our environment and food sources.
Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), backyard burning produces significant quantities of dioxin, a major health concern. Dioxins are formed when the combination of carbon and trace amounts of chlorine are burned. Even when plastics are removed, dioxins are still created because nearly all household wastes contain trace amounts of chlorine. Through burning, dioxins are released into the air settling on plants. Plants are eaten by animals and dioxin settles in their fatty tissue; those toxins are then transferred to us when we eat meat and dairy products. Dioxin also settles on our soils and waterways contaminating the fish we consume. Dioxins can alter the cells resulting in “adverse effects upon reproduction and development, suppression of the immune system, disruption of hormonal systems, and cancer.”
The EPA classifies dioxins as “persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic pollutants (PBTs). PBTs are highly toxic, long-lasting substances that can build up in the food chain to levels that are harmful to human and ecosystem health. Persistent means they remain in the environment for extended periods of time. Bioaccumulative means their concentration levels increase as they move up the food chain.”
In addition to dioxin, backyard burning creates other pollutants including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and hexachlorobenzene. The EPA reports these pollutants can have immediate and long-term health effects including cancer, respiratory illnesses, and damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Remaining ash residues contaminate vegetables when scattered in gardens.
These practices also pollute the environment with toxic compounds including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, and particle pollution. These compounds contribute to acid rain, greenhouse gases, global warming, ozone depletion, and the formation of smog.
Then what do we do with all this trash? For starters, when we practice the RRR principals, we create less waste.
Reduce –Use durable, long-lasting goods, avoid disposable single-use items, and purchase products with less packaging.
Reuse – Repair, sell, share, and donate; Compost –Yard trimmings and food scraps create natural fertilizer
Recycle – If it can’t be reused, recycle through Boonslick Industries.
Waste Disposal – Don’t litter or dump illegally. Take your waste to a transfer station or purchase a waste collection service.
With these practices, our bodies and the Earth will be healthier and happier!