We’re killing birds with our bottle caps

I’ve blogged before about the horrific impact of disposable plastic on our oceans – from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to animals stuck in plastic soda rings. Well, now, we’ve got one more thing to consider – bottle caps. Yep, those plastic bottle caps are killing birds. Why? Because birds eat those plastic caps thinking they are food, and then starve when their bellies are too full of plastic things that aren’t food.  According to a recent article by the BBC,

“about one-third of all albatross chicks die on Midway, many as the result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents.”

Photographer Chris Jordan has been documenting birds on Midway Atoll (way out in the Pacific Ocean, near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). And his images of the carcasses of baby birds with bellies full of plastic bottle caps will get you doing what you can to make sure those bottle caps don’t get swept into the ocean or any other plastic debris.  Five tons of plastic comes to the remote Midway Atoll every year – cast off and forgotten by us.

So, yet again, let’s take steps to eliminate disposable plastic. Switch to reusable grocery and produce bags. Use a reusable stainless steel bottle instead of buying bottled water. Buy items in bulk instead of single serve containers. Let’s keep in mind that plastic just doesn’t go away and our world is an interconnected web. Need more ideas? Check out Beth’s My Plastic-free Life.

Back to School with Microban?

This post is part of the Green Moms Carnival on Back to School. Be sure to go check out the round up post at Mindful Momma with lots of ideas on going back to school – in green style.

My take on going back to school is pretty close to my good friend Lynn at OrganicMania. You can avoid back to school shopping by remembering to repurpose and reuse. I try to limit new purchases – although the reusable lunch sacks do get pretty worn out each year. So my kids get one new item each year. And I try to purchase with purpose – we don’t even get our class lists until after school starts, so I refuse to buy anything until I know exactly what my kids actually need.

But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t looked at the back to school merchandise when shopping. And boy,  has the use of Microban technologies in school supplies proliferated this year! If you aren’t aware, Microban is a broad range of antimicrobial technologies that are designed to protect products from microbes. Microban technologies do not protect the user of the product from disease causing microorganisms (if Microban International was making such claims, it would be subject to certain regulatory requirements and would have to have proof to support the claims).  Microban technologies are built into the product during the manufacturing process.

What is actually used in the particular Microban technology in a particular product is difficult to discern. It is generally understood that Microban in plastic includes triclosan, a chemical many of us are trying to avoid. But you don’t know for sure. Microban has many different technologies it is using now, including zinc and silver technologies, so the average consumer can’t really tell what formulation is being used in any particular product.

But what is being used begs the question. Why exactly do we need Microban technologies in our binders and other school supplies? It seems like a completely unnecessary use of a chemical. If I need disease prevention, then I should be wiping down the binder and encouraging my children to wash their hands. The Microban technology added to it isn’t going to protect my child from disease – good old handwashing with warm water and soap will do that.

So why the heck are we seeing Microban technologies added to so many products? Because we seem to have a fear of microbes. A completely unnatural fear of microbes. And we think the solution is some antibacterial germ killing chemical, when all we really need to do is wash our hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, rubbing vigorously. That’s it. And it doesn’t take antibacterial soap or antibacterial products.

So how about for back to school we skip the Microban technologies and send our kids to school with some castile liquid soap?

 

Greenwashing: Beaute de Maman not so beautiful. Or particularly natural.

Polyetheylene plastic beads

I just don’t get the popularity of Beaute de Maman. Or why the line won an Editor’s Choice Award from Pregnancy Magazine in December of last year.

I really don’t get it.

The line is expensive.

But people like it because it is natural. I’ve found it in very upscale boutiques, with sales people touting its benefits.

But, the line is guilty of greenwashing.

 The product advertising states that

Beaute de Maman was conceived by Dr. Brown, an obstetrician whose ongoing mission is to provide safe and effective remedies for the common problems women face during pregnancy. Her fine line of skincare products has been extensively studied and evaluated, as well as allergy and obstetrician tested. The entire line contains only natural and herbal ingredients proven safe for the mother-to-be, the fetus and the breastfeeding baby. 

Those natural claims are repeated in the Connecticut Post and other press about Beaute De Maman.

And therein is my problem. The entire line is supposed to contain “only natural and herbal ingredients” but that isn’t true. Well, at least by my definition of natural.

Let’s take the first product – the facial scrub. The ingredients are:

Water (Purified), Glycerol Stearate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Butylene Glycol, Disodium Laureth Sulfocucinate, Sodium Cocoyl, Methyl Taurate, Polyethylene, PEG-100 stearate, Myristyl Myristate, Tridecyl Stearate, Neopentyl Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Tridecyl Trimellitate, Phenoxyethanol, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, DMDM Hydantoin, Caprylyl Glycol, Triethanolamine, Iodopropynyl Butycarbamate

Okay, now realize that polyethylene is a plastic derived from petroleum. That means that this allegedly all natural and herbal facial scrub has tiny microbeads of plastic that pollute our oceans.

Guess what? Lots of the other ingredients are very, very far from “natural.” Take butylene glycol. It is produced by the petrochemical industry by steam cracking. In other words, saturated petroleum hydrocarbons are broken down into small hydrocarbons. Or take triethanolamine. Triethanolamine is produced by reacting ethylene oxide with ammonia. In turn, ethylene oxide comes from ethylene and oxygen, and ethylene is produced by the petrochemical industry by steam cracking.

Okay, how are those natural? Or herbal?

Last year, I tried to speak with Beaute de Maman about its products. I was specifically interested in the natural claim and also contaminants being present in ceretain ingredients. And I got a fairly snotty response from Laureen Schroeder, VP of Marketing, that kept emphasizing how the company has access to research not available to the rest of us.

First, and most importantly, she said that “we do not claim to be 100% natural – as we could not be effective.” Huh? Isn’t that at odds with the advertising?

She also said:

Our products have been researched using databases and reproduction toxicity reports available only to physicians. . . . According to Reprotox, which are physician only databases  . . .”

Okay Ms. Schroeder, hate to tell you, but Reprotox is a subscription service available to physicians and consumers. So, yes, I use the same databases that you do.

So, many of the ingredients in the facial scrub peaked my interest. Ethylhexyl palmitate, for example, is an irritant, and the CIR panel warns against using in products for use around the eyes or on the skin above a certain concentration. Butylene glycol has the same problem. Several ingredients are ethoxylated and can have the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane as a contaminant, including disodium laureth sulfocucinate and PEG-100 stearate. Phenoxyethanol is phenol reacted with ethylene oxide, which again is petroleum derived.

Now, Ms. Schroeder states that the “facial scrub has no dioxane or carcinogenic compounds. All ingredients used are pure with no contaminants. Again, Intertek, or the FDA of England, did extensive testing of all products and determined that repeated exposure to the ingredients will not cause skin irritation, even with prolonged or repeated use. The ingredients used are well known and present at typical concenetrations where they will not cause irritation or allergy and are deemed safe. There is no formaldehyde or carcinogenic ingredients.”

Okay, so it seems that perhaps the ethoxylated ingredients are vacuum stripped to eliminate the 1,4 dioxane. But when I asked about the detection level used (and we know that is important after the SIGG debacle), I didn’t get a response.

Obviously, formaldehyde isn’t an ingredient. But her statement that there is no formaldehyde doesn’t address whether there are formaldehyde donors. The thing is about formaldehyde donors is that they work by releasing small quantities of formaldehyde to make the environment – the product – less favorable to microorganisms. So how can she claim that there is no formaldehyde produced? I get it that the levels may be very small, but still. Formaldehyde, by the way, is a carcinogen. It also causes contact dermantitis. DMDM Hydantoin, for example, is a formaldehyde donor. Setting asside the whole formaldehyde issue, DMDM Hydantoin is also an irritant, a known human immune system toxicant, and is a human skin toxicant. It is restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan. It gets a 7 to 9 (depending on use) in Skin Deep’s Cosmetic Safety Database.

I’m also completely unconvinced by the reliance upon Reprotox. Beaute de Maman banks on its claims that the products are safe for pregnant women. (I have some questions about the specific claims because, well, they seem to cross into the product being a drug, not a cosmetic, but that is for the FDA. And the FTC.) But the thing is, we know that there have not be adequate toxicology reviews of most of the chemicals we use. Looking at the Reprotox entry for DMDM Hydantoin, for example, there is no information in Reprotox other than the CIR’s assessment from 1988. Hello? There has been more information since the industry-funded panel looked at it – and the CIR only considers irritant/allergen type responses for the most part, not developmental toxicity.

And, by the way, Beaute de Maman claims that “these products, cosmeceuticals, have medicinal propertiers in their ingredients ensuring the safety of both mother-to-be and baby.” That certainly sounds like they are super special, right? Just so you know, the FDA does not recognize any such category as “cosmeceutical”, as Beaute de Maman asserts that the products are. A product is a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term “cosmeceutical” has no meaning under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Why you need to stop using disposable plastic-how the ocean garbage patches will grow

I’ve posted before about the plastic garbage patches in the ocean. I’ve talked about how Beth from My Plastic-free Life (formerly Fake Plastic Fish) is my hero – she lives a life free from most disposable plastic . And I’ve rallied against polyethylene plastic beads in body scrubs.

If none of that has persuaded you to eliminate at least some disposable plastic, then watch this.

Maximenko’s Plastic Pollution Growth Model from 5 Gyres on Vimeo.

Health Canada Reports BPA Free Baby Bottles Leach Bisphenol A?

Last week, it was reported that Health Canada had found some allegedly bisphenol A (BPA) free baby bottles nonetheless leached BPA. Well, upon further digging, it appears that very low levels of BPA were found in fluid held in some BPA free baby bottles, but that the source may simply be BPA in “dust” from manufacturing or perhaps even the lab or some other problem. The report has numerous critics, and not just from industry. Truly, it appears that the study has significant flaws. In any event, I was going to prepare a long, detailed post but, thank god, Jennifer and Jeremy at Z Recommends already did it. So, I’m just going to link to their most awesome, detailed, incredible post digging into the story. Go read it.

And if you are tired of worrying about what is in your baby’s plastic bottles or sippy cups, you can try glass or stainless steel. Check out OrganicKidz stainless steel baby bottles, for example.

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Beth at FakePlasticFish Asks Oprah to go Plastic Free

plastic bottlesHow much disposable plastic do you throw away every day?


How many water bottles or drink containers? How many plastic bags? How many straws, caps, containers?


Do you shop green with your reusable totes but still use plastic bags for your produce? Do you buy single servings instead of bulk? Do you buy recycled content toilet paper in a plastic wrapping?


If you are doing what you can with obvious disposable plastic, do you know that some body scrubs, toothpastes and other beauty products contain small plastic polyethylene beads that are designed to be flushed to the environment?


Do you ever stop to think about all the plastic you consume and discard each day, each month, each year? And then multiply that by the number of people in the US? And then by the rest of the world? That’s a lot of plastic. A heck of a lot. Especially since it doesn’t degrade in any comprehensible time frame.  In fact, every piece of plastic made in the last fifty or so years, except for the less than 1/2 percent that has been incinerated, is still around somewhere in our environment.


That’s right. Every single piece. And a whole bunch of it is clogging our oceans in giant plastic patches.


I’m sure you recycle. But recycling plastic is just downcycling – the plastic is still around, just put to another use, but just for the life of that product. It then usually can’t be recycled again. So a plastic bottle becomes a purse, and then the purse goes to the landfill. 


Beth at FakePlasticFish is one of my favorite people. She has documented her journey to a plastic-free lifestyle at her blog, and continues to fight for reducing our use of disposable plastic. She spearheaded the succesful campaign to get Brita to recycle its filters. She is my no plastic Superhero. I always ask myself “What would Beth do” when I’m stuck.


So, when Oprah did her Earth Day episode, I was thrilled. Oprah had Fabien Cousteau as a guest, among others, to talk about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the largest landfill in the world), I thought of Beth. When Oprah had her epiphany about plastics, I thought of Beth.


So what did Beth do? She prepared a video letter to Oprah, explaining her journey, and asking Oprah to use her voice, her clout, to urge others to get rid of plastic. Her heartfelt, sincere story about her journey is well worth a watch. And, just perhaps, if enough of us talk about it, Oprah will hear, and, well, that could lead to amazing things for this Earth of ours:


 


 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ae0nXDRVnjk


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Warning: These baby bottles and canned goods contain a chemical known to cause reproductive harm

canned food goodsWould you buy a can of beans with a warning on it that it may contain a chemical known to the state of California to cause reproductive harm?


What about a baby bottle?


If you live in California, you are probably familiar with Proposition 65’s standard warning. Even if you don’t realize it.


You’ve probably seenproposition 65 warning sign a warning at the gas station. Or perhaps on some adhesives or similar consmer products. Or for alcoholic beverages.


A Proposition 65 warning sign is placed on consumer products or posted in areas to give warnings to consumers that using the product or being in the area can expose them to a chemical or chemicals that cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm.


Proposition 65 requires a warning – it doesn’t prohibit the sale of the items. Just a warning.


But would you buy canned goods with such a warning?


Why do I ask? Because the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) published notice that it will consider adding bisphenol A (BPA) to the list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. BPA is being proposed to be added as a development toxicant. The meeting to consider adoption is set for July 15, 2009. I don’t know whether it will be adopted or not, but I’m just wondering what will happen if it is.


You might not be very familiar with BPA, buy you probably have it in your body. Biomonitoring found that 93% of Americans have BPA in their systems.


BPA is a basic monomer of polycarbonate plastic, so it is found in polycarbonate plastic containers. Polycarbonate is used for baby bottles, many of the 5 gallon water bottles, and other similar hard plastic containers. It is also used for the lining of most canned foods and beverages.


Proposition 65 requires a warning unless the business can establish that there is no exposure from use of the product above the significant risk level (for carcinogens) or the no observable effects level (for chemicals that cause reproductive harm). However, Proposition 65 allows a business to place a warning on a product if the company based on its knowledge, or assumption, that a Proposition 65 listed chemical is present without attempting to evaluate the levels of exposure. Companies do this because it is less expensive than to undertake a risk assessment. So companies slap on labels on products based upon the presumption of listed chemicals being present in products, such as lead and phthalates in polyvinyl chloride plastic.


Putting a label on may not reduce product sales for product such as auto or hardware products, but I imagine it will give consumers pause on a canned food or baby bottle. But, if BPA is added, without the identification of a regulatory “no risk” level, then those canned goods will have to contain such a label. Otherwise, companies will be subject to Proposition 65 lawsuits. The thing about Prop 65 is that it contains a bounty hunter provision, which allows private enforcement, and allows plaintiff firms to recover attorneys’s fees. Proposition 65 also has a penalty provision of up to $2,500 per day for each violation. So, because of that, many firms just put labels on products that may contain listed chemicals that could result in exposure to protect themselves from suits.


But BPA is found in so many products. Now, a warning probably wouldn’t be required for a bike helmet, for example, made of polycarbonate plastic because there isn’t any exposure. But for food contact items, it is established that BPA leaches out of polycarbonate plastic and the linings of canned food. Which may mean that such companies are driven to found alternatives to avoid warnings.


In any event, it will be interesting to see what develops. Now, if you don’t want to be exposed to BPA, which is a hormone disruptor and is potentially harmful to fetuses and babies, you can skip polycarbonate plastic for food storage. For canned foods, go for fresh, frozen, dried or jarred instead of metal cans.


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Plastic, Plastic Everywhere: What Would Beth Do?

green moms carnival logoThe second Green Moms Carnival this month is about plastic.  It is hosted by Beth at My Plastic-free Life (formerly FakePlasticFish who is my no-plastic Superhero).  You really should go check out her blog – she describes her inspirational journey to a lifestyle free of disposable plastic.  And she is a woman who truly practices what she preaches – but never in a holier than though manner.  Instead she is quietly galvanizing force.  Sharing some meals last year at the BlogHer08 convention brought home to me just how much disposable plastic we use every day.

Since then, I found out about the absolutely frightening amount of plastic in the Pacific Ocean.  I also found out about polyethylene plastic beads being in hundreds of beauty and personal care products and am sterering clear of those products. 

And since then, really, since Beth, I’ve made efforts to get rid of disposable plastic.  We already used re-usable shopping bags and totes for shopping, but I made an effort to use all the time, from the grocery store to Target to Macys.  I also got some awesome re-usable produce and organic re-usable bags for buying bulk from Plum Creek Mercantile (I love them!).  I use stainless steel straws purchased through Amazon, carry my own stainless steel cutlery for lunches at work (no disposable plastic forks), and thumb my nose at my son’s school by refusing to use a plastic bag for his towel each week. (we use a re-usable nylon tote).  I shocked my daughter’s friends’ parents at her birthday party by using my good china for birthday cake instead of disposable plastic.   

Right now, I’m focusing on disposable plastic – plastic bags, plastic packaging, plastic packing tape, etc. – the things that you don’t re-use.  So, for example, I don’t buy single serve items, but buy in bulk, and then use small containers to make the items portable.  Like apple sauce (if I don’t have time to make my own) in a large glass container spooned into reusable containers for lunches.  I always ask myself – what would Beth do? 

But it still feels like it isn’t enough. I look around our house and just see so much plastic.  I try to skip it all the time, but it is virtually impossible to get completely away from plastic.  And, to be frank, I am glad to have my plastic car seats for my children.  I recognize that plastic has made our lives easier and more safe in a lot of ways.  But it is not without its problems.  
ocean trashWhy is plastic such a problem?  It is made with petroleum – a non-renewable resource.  It doesn’t degrade or break down in any relevant time frame so it fills our landfills and chokes our oceans. Just imagine – every piece of plastic made in the last 50 years or so, except for the 1/2 percent or so that has been incinerated, is still around in our environment. 

How much plastic do you think will exist in the next 50 years? 

And recycling helps, but it doesn’t make the plastic disappear.  The recycled items are just made into other plastic items, which may not be recyclable.  Most plastic is not particular eco-friendly in its manufacture either – particularly polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic.  Plastic items may also be exposing us to potentially harmful chemicals – think of hormone-disrupting bispenol A in polycarbonate plastic or the neurotoxin lead in polyvinyl chloride. 

We really need to do more.  I saw a Disney Thumbelina doll at Target yesterday and was heartened to see the post-consumer recycled content packaging replacing the typical plastic packaging.  But it did NOT change the fact that the doll was still just a plastic doll.  

And I seem to be a bit cranky about it lately.  Two nights ago at the grocery store (granted, it was around 10 pm), the man behind me in the check out line asked me how I remembered to bring my re-usable bags.  And I snapped at him – “Well, I just think about what will happen if I don’t bring them – when my kids grow up the world will be crap.”  Not the most diplomatic response. 

I’ve also snapped at my husband, who often doesn’t think about it and buys single serve apple sauce or similar items. 
So I guess this is a preachy post because I’m going to urge you to do something about plastic.  I really think we have to do more – to conserve our resources, to protect our oceans, to preserve our Earth.  Let’s all try to: 

  • Use re-usable bags and totes for shopping, whether at the grocery store or a department store.  No more plastic bags.  If you think a single plastic bag is no big deal, consider that Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags every year.
  •  Use re-usable bags for your produce too.
  •  Skip the bags at the dry cleaner.  If you need a bag, then you can buy a fabric bag to use.
  •  Try a stainless steel or glass straw (both available on Amazon) instead of the disposable plastic ones.  My kids absolutely love our stainless straws.  They are super easy to clean.
  • Carry your own cutlery.  Virtually all take-out restaurants are glad to forego giving you disposable forks and knives.
  • Use a re-usable stainless steel bottle for your water or coffee or whatever you drink.
  • Bring your own containers for take out.  Most of the places I lunch out frequently are more than willing to use my containers from home for my lunch when I eat out.
  • Look for items with less packaging.  Buy concentrated. Buy in bulk. 

Any if you aren’t sure, just ask, What Would Beth Do?