| Not-So-Green Cuisine
The Cost of that Chocolate: A Dollar and a Million Acres of Rainforest
The devastating consequences of palm oil
By Ling Rao
Ice cream, cookies, cake mix, chocolate bars, lipstick, Easter eggs, face wash, doughnuts, potato chips, baby formula, and shaving cream; can you guess what they have in common? They contain palm oil.
The center of a billion dollar industry, palm oil is used in about 50% of all packaged goods in a typical supermarket. It is derived from oilseeds of the oil palm tree, native to West Africa, but has become an especially lucrative crop for Malaysia and Indonesia. Its production is bound to increase, as worldwide demand for palm oil has shot up by 485% in the last decade! Here's why:
- In comparison to other oilseeds, palm oilseeds yield the highest amount of oil per area.
- The two largest importers, China and India, will continue to develop and grow in population, increasing the demand for vegetable oil.
- Palm oil is favored over partially hydrogenated oils because transfats contribute to heart disease and other medical problems. Palm oil also contributes to health issues, though it is still considered the better alternative.
- European countries, in efforts to move away from fossil fuels, have subsidized biofuel production and driven up the demand for palm oil. As a result, Europe is the leading importer of palm oil.
Unfortunately, palm oil plantations today come at the steep price of destroying a biome characterized by its incredible complexity and biodiversity: the tropical rainforest. Indonesia, palm oil's top producer, has felled half of its rainforest, the third largest swath in the world. Borneo (also called Kalimantan) is Indonesia's largest island, where plantations occupy an area the size of California and Florida combined. Permission has been granted by the government to convert 70% of remaining rainforest into acacia and palm oil plantations. At the current rate of conversion, the UN's Environmental Program (UNEP) estimates that 98% Indonesia's rainforest will be gone by 2022.
The destruction of habitat will exacerbate losses in biodiversity and climate change. Additionally, peatlands (wetlands with thick organic soil composed of dead or decaying plant material) are burned along with the forest. Peatlands store an immense amount of carbon, and burning them releases this carbon into the atmosphere. Clearing the rainforest and peatlands will worsen the state of climate change. Furthermore, hundreds of endangered species will only continue to suffer from habitat loss. Orangutans are great apes exclusive to Asia. Between 2004-2008, the orangutan population fell by 14% largely due to palm oil expansion. Orangutans are only... Continue Reading...
Collaborative Consumption: What's Mine is Yours and What's Yours is Mine
By Ling Rao
We, as 21st century consumers, tend to own a lot of stuff. It takes up the garage first, then the attic, and the basement. With time, it slowly (or quickly) begins to occupy the closets, the shelves, and under the beds. When it comes time to finally get rid of all this accumulated stuff, most of it will end up as waste and perhaps some will be resold or given away.
Collaborative consumption aims to reduce the amount of stuff produced, owned and wasted, and instead increase the amount of stuff borrowed and shared.
The incentives for trading used items are obvious: used items are less expensive and reusing an item reduces waste. The downsides of swapping are that the used item may be of poorer quality, and it can be difficult to find someone to swap with.
For example, if I were willing to trade my beloved Timex watch for, let's say, a delicious sandwich, I would need to find someone who could make a delicious sandwich with the need for a Timex watch and the willingness to make a sandwich. That's a challenge. The use of currency meets this challenge because it serves as a common placeholder for all needs and wants, eliminating the need to barter. I'll buy a sandwich and keep the watch, you'll buy your watch and keep your sandwich, and we will never have to cross roads.
Not quite. The Internet has opened the gates for collaborating, trading, and sharing ideas, services and material goods between previously disconnected individuals. Rachel Botsman, TED Talks speaker on collaborative consumption, declared that "a new sect or [is] emerging called 'swap-trading,'"where various websites serve as swapping or borrowing platforms.
For example, SwapTreasures
provides its users the opportunity to sell, give or trade their things with other users. Is it possible that bartering, without the transfer of money, could achieve a recognized level of popularity through use of the Internet? Perhaps, but not yet. The production and consumption of new things, instead of used things, saturates and dominates the market supply and demand. Even so, there remains the possibility that bartering systems could reemerge and expand if more people joined in and had their needs met while meeting the needs of others.
Commercial enterprises founded on borrowing, such as Zipcar
, represent another way in which collaborative consumption operates successfully. With Zipcar, customers pay for the time to travel in a borrowed car and with Airbnb, homeowners offer travelers accommodations at prices typically lower than hotels.
However, collaborative consumption doesn't have to be commercial or profit-driven. Streetbank
, founded by Londoner Sam Stephens, is a website was created simply to encourage neighbors to share. It doesn't make any money nor does it intend to. Streetbank merely acts as a conduit for neighbors to communicate, share and, most importantly, foster friendships. Its goals are "to get people involved in their community, to foster altruism, a generosity of spirit and volunteerism...to help local needs to be met by local solutions, reducing poverty by building community."
Trading and sharing aren't new, but it is being recreated and holds exciting new developments for the future. I invite you to investigate and participate in the current redistributive and collaborative opportunities around you.
And check out the websites mentioned above created for borrowing and sharing!
| Nuclear News
Learning from Fukushima...Another Nuclear Power Plant Bites the Dust
Southern California's San Onofre reactors are shut down for good
On June 4, at a backyard event in Bel Air, former Japanese Prime Minister Naota Kan told a crowd of Hollywood environmentalists, leaders and film makers just what he thinks of nuclear power: it's too dangerous and it needs to go. He spoke of his experience as Japan's leader at the time of the Fukushima disaster, saying that "until March 2011, I thought about how to safely operate nuclear power. After Fukushima, my whole mindset has changed...that we must now not operate nuclear reactors."
It seems that his message was heard...
Just three days later, on June 7, Southern California Edison announced that it has decided to shut down for good the San Onofre nuclear power plant. The two reactors, located on the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, had been shut down in January 2012, when it was
discovered that hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water were prematurely damaged. The power company had hoped to restart at least one reactor, and has spent millions of dollars on repairs since the shutdown.
This news should come as a great relief to the more than 8 million people living within 50 miles of the plant. Like Fukushima, San Onofre is of course located in a seismically active area, and a major earthquake could have caused a failure there similar to what happened at Fukushima. Prime Minister Kan told his Hollywood audience that had it not been for a freak event that prevented the total meltdown of one of the reactors at Fukushima, he would have been forced to call for the total evacuation of 40% of his country, including Tokyo. As it is, more than two years later, 160,000 people remain displaced, families scattered across Japan, unable to return home.
Prime Minister Kan is not the only high profile individual who is on a mission to spread his anti-nuclear message; he is joined by former US Nuclear Regulators who also say that the risks are too great and that it is time to move away from nuclear power. Hopefully other utility companies will listen to these men in suits and follow Southern California's Edison's lead.
For more on Prime Minister Kan's campaign against nuclear power, see www.foe.org.
For more on Southern California's Edison's decision to shut down San Onofre for good, see www.bigstory.ap.org"The sun is the only safe nuclear reactor, situated as it is some ninety-three million miles away." - Stephanie Mills
| Green Buyer's Guide
A new guide to truly green and healthy cleaning products
Quick, what do Simple Green and Lysol All Purpose Cleaner have in common? In addition to being all-purpose cleaners, they both scored an F grade in Environmental Working Group's new Guide to Healthy Cleaning. The guide is the first of its kind and contains information and safety assessments for 2,109 cleaning products, 197 brands and more than 1,000 ingredients.
As a green-minded consumer, it's possible that you've been using Simple Green for years, believing the claims on the bottle that it's "non-toxic" and "biodegradable." As it turns out, with the exception of the Simple Green Naturals line, Simple Green products aren't green at all (besides their color, that is). Not only did Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner receive an F grade in the guide, its green washing tactics earned it a spot in the EWG Cleaners Database Hall of Shame. Another surprise in the guide? Borax. 20 Mule Team Borax Natural Laundry Booster & Multi-Purpose Household Cleaner, which has a reputation of being safe and is often included in homemade cleaner recipes, also scored an F in the guide.
One would think there would be laws prohibiting the makers of cleaning products from putting bogus claims such as "green" and "naturally derived" on their products, but alas there is not. Combine this with the fact that there are no laws requiring manufacturers to list ingredients on product packaging, company websites, or anywhere else, and it's no wonder these folks are lying through their teeth to get well-intentioned consumers to buy their products.
This lack of disclosure can make it nearly impossible for consumers to distinguish safe from unsafe products. The Guide to Healthy Cleaning is EWG's answer to this problem: by helping to fill these (huge) information gaps, the guide helps consumers find products that are truly safe and environmentally-friendly. Products are assigned grades on an A - F scale based on three criteria: safety of ingredients, ingredient disclosure, and whether or not the product is certified as "green" by an EWG-reviewed and approved program. In general, cleaners sold at Whole Foods Market scored well because they only sell products that fully disclose ingredients on the label.
The guide rates cleaners in nine categories: air freshener, all-purpose cleaner, bathroom, dishwashing, floor care, furniture, kitchen, laundry and other. You can search for a specific product or get an overview of how products fared within a category. Search for your favorite products to find out if they are certified as green cleaners by either Green Seal or EcoLogo, and whether either PETA or Leaping Bunny have certified them as free of animal testing. If your favorite products didn't score well, you can also find similar cleaning products that scored better.
One other piece of advice about household cleaners: don't waste your money buying a different cleaner for every surface of your home. A good all-purpose cleaner will do the trick for most things, and there's very little you can't clean with good old-fashioned vinegar and baking soda. Check out our list of safe, cheap and effective homemade cleaners, and if you still feel you need something store-bought, be sure to check the Guide to Healthy Cleaning before you buy. And one last note about your stored-away cleaners that scored poorly in the guide: that stuff is hazardous waste, so don't forget to dispose of it properly at a Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection site or event near you.
| Did You Know?
The Bottle Cap Conundrum
Caps on or off when recycling?
Assuming that you use plastic bottles, do you remove the caps before recycling them? If you're a conscientious recycler, chances are you do. For many years we were told to remove all caps before recycling plastic bottles. I have personally heard this warning at two different recycling plants, and have read it here and there as well: remove all caps or they may jam the recycling equipment or worse(!), cause the bottles to explode when pressure is applied at the plant.
Wanting to avoid such an explosion, I always recycle plastic bottles with their lids removed. But as I do, I am troubled by the thought of all those billions of bottles out there surely being recycled with their caps attached. What happens to them? Are they destined for the dump for the lack of two simple twists of the wrist?
I was prompted to look into this recently when longtime Green Graze
reader Sue L. of Lomita contacted me to find out what I thought about this bottle cap conundrum. Sue was disturbed by an email she had received from a well-meaning environmental group warning that bottles with caps attached are being discarded at recycling plants. Unable to accept this as truth, I did a little research and was relieved by what I found.
My answer came from The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers
(APR), a national trade association that represents companies that acquire, reprocess and sell more than 90 percent of the post-consumer plastic processed in North America. What did they have to say about plastic bottles and their caps? As it turns out, things have changed, as they often do, an APR is now actively supporting leaving all plastic caps attached.
Early in 2012, in order to increase the overall recycling rate of plastic caps, APR launched a program called "Caps On." The goal is to reach individuals, Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) and recycling haulers with the message that "recycling collection and processing technology has improved and demand for the recyclable material has increased," and that "this call for caps on is here to stay...MRFs can trust in the ability to market bales of containers with caps on."
The main reason for the change is the simple fact plastic caps are in fact recyclable and that studies show that loose caps aren't nearly as easy to recover as caps still attached to their containers. With approximately 1.5 billion pounds of plastic caps produced each year, there's plenty to recover, and all that plastic is just too valuable to waste.
For more information, including how exactly the caps are separated from the bottles during the recycling process, visit www.plasticsrecycling.org
| Worth Your Time
Images of the Industrial Present: Landscapes of Human Intervention on the Natural World
2006, Available on DVD
By Ling Rao
Edward Burtynsky is a photographer who captures isolated industrial landscapes and nature-altered landscapes that are largely overlooked or forgotten by the public eye.
These altered landscapes are mines, dams, oil fields, quarries, electronic waste yards, manufacturing sites, polluted areas and other urban-industrial areas. These are places that most people do not normally think about or experience, yet are bound to and helped create. His images of these landscapes are striking and mysterious, both reprehensible and strangely beautiful.
|Nickel Tailings No. 31|
Sudbury, Ontario 1996
|Oil Fields #13|
Taft, California, USA, 2002
|Rock of Ages #15|
Active Section, E.L. Smith Quarry, Barre, Vermont, 1991
|Scrap Auto Engines #11|
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 1997
|Oil Spill #2|
Discoverer Enterprise, Gulf of Mexico, May 11, 2010
Manufactured Landscapes, directed by Jennifer Baichwal, is a 90-minute documentary that features Edward Burtynsky's art and environmental message. The film crew travels to Asia, filming factories, shipyards, and e-waste sites as well as the people who work and reside there. A reviewer from IMBD commented that "the film manages to impose a powerful sense of how unsteady our world is as we rush toward an environmentally unsustainable future at lightning speed - while showing us the terrifying beauty in our pursuit of progress."
|Oxford Tire Pile #9b|
Westley, California, USA, 1999
However, Manufactured Landscapes is unlike most documentaries advocating for environmental action. Baichwal described it as "slow", "experiential" and "meditative." It contains very little narrative and instead, was created for the viewer to contemplate, interpret and shape a meaningful perspective for themselves. Manufactured Landscapes is definitely a documentary worth watching. While it is not available to view on the website, it can be accessed through Netflix.
"These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence;
they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear.
We are drawn by desire - a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or
unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence
on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for
the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction."
- Taken from Edward Burtynsky's artist statement
Please visit www.edwardburtynsky.com to view more of Burtynsky's photographs.
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