"Foot Dragging" is apparently what the first two letters of FDA stand for. Just before April Fool's Day, the agency rejected a petition by the NRDC urging it to ban bisphenol-A (BPA) from canned food and liquid infant formula containers.
BPA is a synthetic chemical that mimics estrogen in the body and is associated with a raft of health woes.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: "Innocent until proven guilty" is appropriate for people, but not for chemicals that people ingest.
"The next decision the FDA should make is to remove 'responsible for protecting the public health' from its mission statement," Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. "It's false advertising. Allowing a chemical as toxic as BPA, and linked to so many serious health problems, to remain in food means the agency has veered dangerously off course."
Soup was always good food. The homemade kind, at least. Canned soup, not so much—largely thanks to the estrogen-mimicking chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) used in the lining of many cans.
Good news on that front: America's iconic soup maker Campbell's has finally responded to pressure from parents and advocacy groups and committed to going BPA-free. It hasn't set a specific timeline for the phase-out to be completed; however, the company says it has already started using BPA-free linings for some of its soups. I like the sound of that.
But what I really like is that thanks to the kerfuffle about BPA in linings, I have pretty much weaned myself and my family off canned food altogether. I'm using the '70s crockpot from my youth to make beans, and experimenting with all kinds of soup in big pots that offer more servings than cans.
Here's one for the "Nothing Is Simple" file... My obsession with plastic alternatives continues, fueled by the blog My Plastic-Free Life and the growing presence on the world's radar of what plastic debris is doing to our oceans (e.g., the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and its cousin in the Atlantic).
So my ears prick up every time I hear news about a plant-based alternative to standard petroleum-based plastics. For example:
In March of this year, Coca-Cola subsidiary Odwalla will reportedly start using 96%-100% plant-based bottles (from molasses and sugarcane) for all its single-serving beverages.
Case Western Reserve University professor David Schiraldi is working on a biodegradable substance that uses casein (from milk) and a spongelike material called aerogel.
And bioplastic maker Cereplast is branching out into algae-based plastics to supplement its resins made from corn, potatoes, tapioca, and wheat.
Although biopolymers do well in terms of biodegradability, low toxicity, and use of renewable resources, they aren't so peachy on the production side, because the farming and refining required to make them tend to use lots of energy and put nasty chemicals into the environment.
A life-cycle assessment by the Pittsburgh team revealed that four common biopolymers are large contributors to ozone depletion. And two sugar-derived polymers — standard polylactic acid (PLA-G) and the type manufactured by Cargill subsidiary NatureWorks (PLA-NW), the most common sugar-based plastic in the United States — greatly contribute to eutrophication, the process by which water becomes unable to sustain life.
And here I was, all excited about the possibility of a future in which I might be able to buy things like yogurt, hummus, and lotion without wondering if the empty containers were destined to pollute the lungs of some Third World recycling worker or contribute to the ocean's chemical soup for hundreds of years. Still, I have to believe that these production problems are solvable. Especially since there's no hiding from the fact that, sooner or later, we're going to run out of oil.
It's been a long time since I first flirted with the possibility of going "no poo," but I think I may have done it!
Shampoo last touched my tresses over three weeks ago... I believe. (Since I was only using it a couple times a week anyway, it's easy to lose track.) Instead, I've been massaging a baking soda solution into my scalp and rinsing it out.
I don't think I look like a total greaser (though my friends may disagree). In fact, I'm still struggling with dryness on the ends of my hair and the locks around my face. I'll try to remedy that by conditioning with apple cider vinegar, if I can ever remember to put a bottle of the stuff in the bathroom.
My reasons for attempting this transition? It started with a desire to steer clear of the nasty chemicals found in the vast majority of shampoos (polyethylene glycol, ceteareth, parabens, etc.). But even after I found some safer brands that I liked, I still had to contend with my ever-increasing compulsion to reduce the number of plastic-packaged things I buy (for a number of reasons). Finally, the idea of just not ever having to buy shampoo appeals to my general orientation toward simpler living and frugality.
Next project: using coffee and/or tea as a color boost for my brown hair.
Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Clean Wal-Mart
What a nice surprise! I just emailed the folks at Pact to let them know I added them to the "Buycotts and Boycotts" section of this blog—as a buycott, since I love their underwear as well as their commitment to nonprofit groups and sustainable packaging.
And CEO Jason Kibbey wrote back to say that Wallet Mouth readers can get 20% off by using coupon code wm20. This is the first time I've ever been in a position to offer a coupon, so it feels a little weird, but seriously, if you need some knickers, go nuts. Pact is the most eco-friendly underwear maker I've heard of, and I can personally attest to the quality of its products.
...and just wants to meet his maker. But, as he puts it, "nothing could destroy me." Check out this curiously touching portrait of an anthropomorphized tote, directed by Ramin Bahrani for ITVS and narrated by none other than Werner Herzog.
I saw an ad for bottled water recently that caught my eye: For every liter of Volvic that you buy, the sign said, the company will provide 10 liters of clean drinking water to Ethiopian children through a partnership with UNICEF.
Immediately a red flag went up in my brain.
It may be laudable for a corporation to fund new sustainable water supplies and sanitation education programs in an area of the world where such things are sorely needed. However, it's hard to get around how troubling the bottled-water industry as a whole is.
As Annie Leonard's just-released "The Story of Bottled Water" makes clear, agua that doesn't come from the tap is problematic along its entire life cycle, from the oil required to make its bottles to the pollution it causes once it's tossed. It is not necessarily as pure as tap water, which in the developed world is regularly inspected and well regulated (violations of the Clean Water Act notwithstanding), and it costs thousands of times more.
Another video, by Food & Water Watch, emphasizes how bottled-water companies siphon off what most of us think of as a public resource,
straining the environment in the process. That is perhaps the most troubling aspect of the issue to me: the privatization of municipal water supplies. And as Mother Nature Network points out, the more people get accustomed to consuming bottled water, the more distanced they become from the tap and the less incentive they have to support bonds that would maintain and upgrade public systems.
So getting back to Volvic's campaign, if for some reason I got marooned on an island with no freshwater source and only two water vending machines, one for a company with a do-gooder campaign and one without, I would give my money to the former. Then I'd start sending smoke signals in hopes that the Plastiki would pick me up.
But really, if helping kids in Ethiopia is the objective, I'd rather just contribute directly to a nonprofit like Charity: Water.
Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user @kevinv033.
Are you now, or have you ever been, a consumer of canned food?
Yeah, me too.
And I was none too pleased when I learned that epoxy-lined cans appear to be our main source of bisphenol A (BPA) exposure. I now avoid most canned food, which is kind of a drag convenience-wise (although it has done wonders for my soup-making skills).
Nonetheless, I'm still troubled by the estrogen-mimicking chemical's widespread presence in food packaging and other items (cash-register receipts is my new favorite).
So I was happy to learn from the Soft Landing (via Dr. Greene's blog—and thanks, Michele, for the tip) that preliminary research from Duke University suggests that folate and genistein may counteract the effects of BPA, particularly for children and possibly for adults as well.
The endocrine-disrupting chemical is of particular concern for fetuses and children, because, as Dr. Greene puts it, "[BPA] turns on and off different genes," resulting in a higher risk for problems such as obesity, early puberty, and breast and prostate cancer.
In their experiments, the Duke researchers exposed pregnant animals to BPA and gave them extra folate (found in leafy greens) and genistein (found in legumes such as soy and fava beans). They found that "[t]hese nutrients switched the genes back the way they should be, and the
BPA effect was completely nullified." Greene continues: "Beyond this, the researchers propose that these nutrients could
block the effects of chemical estrogen exposures, even if given later
in childhood and possibly even in adulthood."
Hmm... What's on the menu tonight? I think some romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, collard greens, and broccoli with fava beans!
Walking to the grocery store the other day, I watched as a man took a final drag off his cigarette and then threw it onto the sidewalk. Sights like that are so common, seldom do they even register in my brain.
But in that moment I was struck by the bizarreness of this banal act: Why is this form of litter socially acceptable?
I'm a child of the '70s, so I remember Woodsy Owl's "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute" campaign well. And after observing litter patterns firsthand in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, I've come to the conclusion that in general, Americans seem to have internalized the fact that it's not great to throw crap on the ground.
But there seems to be an unspoken exception for the cigarette butt, which according to LitterButt is the most common form of litter. For some reason, people who would never dream of putting a candy wrapper anywhere but in a garbage bin think nothing of flicking their cigarette butts into the gutter. Why is that?
LitterButt suggests that smokers don't consider butts litter, and think that they will naturally decompose. Because, you know, some of them look sorta cottony. For a nice explanation of why that isn't true, see this helpful page from Virginia Clean Waterways.
"So what?" smokers may ask. Well, the nonprofit's website also explains that butts pose a threat to wildlife: "Studies conducted
by Clean Virginia Waterways show that the chemicals in cigarette butts easily
leach out of the butts, and are deadly to water fleas (a small but important
animal that lives in most freshwater lakes and streams as well as the ocean)." In addition, birds and marine creatures often ingest cigarette butts, mistaking them for food.
So my question is, How can we make throwing cigarette butts on the ground socially unacceptable?
In Japan, it's considered less OK than it is in the States. Campaigns and signs (like the humorously unclear one shown above, from Kimonobox.com) urge smokers not to drop their butts on the ground. Personal ashtrays (I saw the one pictured below, by NEU, on Japan Trendshop) are also common over there—and they offer a solution to the problem that butts can't go in garbage cans because of the fire hazard. What would it take to make them popular over here?
And/Or... what would it take for municipal garbage cans to have enclosed ashtrays on top?
Another interesting idea came from a designer I met the other night. What if cigarette boxes had a built-in butt-disposal compartment? This is unlikely, of course, since a larger package size would usher in a whole set of additional associated costs, but it certainly seems worthy of exploration.
Pardon the gush, but I just have to share this fantastic, anti-plastic-licious tidbit with you: The folks at Straus Family Creamery are working on replacing their plastic yogurt tubs with a biodegradable potato-based alternative by the end of the year.
Ever since I recently internalized the fact that plastic recycling isn't very green (in terms of both people and the environment), I've been trying to decrease the amount of the stuff that comes into my life. I'm no Beth Terry, though, and my refrigerator in particular is home to a fair number of plastic containers: tubs of hummus, salsa, and especially yogurt.
Mostly I buy Straus yogurt. I love the way it tastes and the way it's made (organically, but beyond that, it's cooled in metal vats, not the plastic tubs you buy it in). And, as you can tell from my two entries on the company in the Boycotts & Buycotts section of this blog (lower right), I have a lot of respect for Straus's business practices. For example, I'm really into the fact that I can buy its awesome milk in a returnable glass container.
Now I have even more respect. The reason Straus is pursuing the potato-based tubs instead of what's emerging as the standard compostable packaging, corn-based PLA—which isn't as environmentally friendly as it seems—is that, as marketing manager Liz Scatena told me, Straus has "a very strict
policy against GMOs. We do not want them in our products, nor do we
want to support their growth." The corn in PLA is genetically modified, and lots of pesticides are used to grow it.
I look forward to seeing Straus's totally tubular tubs whenever they hit the shelves. In the meantime, though, I just discovered another local company, Saint Benoît, that uses glass and ceramic containers for its yogurt, so I'll probably branch out and give it a try. Cost-wise, it's only one penny more than Straus (as long as you return the containers).
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).