May 26, 2013
December 14th, 2012 - The Green Eye
By Karen E. Peterson – Staff Writer
Fees are all over the place and we have never liked them. Late fees for libraries and video stores, bank fees and credit card fees, and I am failry certain that none of us ever thinks they are “good value”. Punishment for us, profits for others. When banks in Canada are posting record profits you might think they could reduce those monthly plan fees instead of increasing them and finding more ways to charge for things like on-line e-transfers, and surplus use of bank machines or Interac payments which they talked us into doing when the machines first started to replace tellers: “oh, did you know you can do that at the instant teller.”
I thought about a nice thing for a credit card company to do (this won’t happen). Start a “lock down and pay down” program. They agree to cut the interest rate significantly on your card for one year. You agree not to use the card to make purchases during this “lock down period” making efforts to “pay down” the balance. If you use the card, the rate goes back up. That would really help people put a dent in the actual principal. This might also reduce consumer bankruptcies. They could also stop increasing your limit without your specific request. Congratulations! We’ve increased your limit! You will never pay this thing down in the next 35 years! As an example, $250/mth interest is $105,000 dollars without compounding.
Banks and credit card companies are easy to pick on – did I mention record profits? Some might say – ah, yes but that’s better than bank bailouts. It’s very Canadian of us to make the best of this. I’d still like to pay less fees starting now. But what about “enviro fees?” As a green consumer, if there is such a thing, do I support these? Is the money going into a massive golden pot creating record profits for someone, or are they really doing what they are supposed to do? I have paid fees for my batteries, my tires, my paint, and recently a $32.65 Environmental Handling Fee (EHF) for my Smart TV and a little wireless keyboard for “surfing”. To add to the pain, this fee had HST charged on it. (Yosemite Sam! moment).
Not only does such a hefty fee make you think about the fact that what you just bought will be landfill sooner than you think, but it starts making you wonder “where does the fee go exactly?” My salesman said “the government”. So with tax on it, that would appear to be a double dip. But HST aside, that’s not exactly correct. You’d think the retailer would be eager to take great pride in the fact that they are part of the solution to better environmental and product stewardship. Instead they point to the default amorphous pocket pilphering agency. Lost opportunity I’d say.
Following the money, I looked up the EHF and found the Electronics Stewardship Association of BC (ESABC) (Side note: Why does the front page of the 2011 Annual Report for ESABC look like the cover of the Matrix DVD? But don’t worry about remembering that acronym because they are merging into the EPRA which is national and interested in harmonization between provinces. Here’s some copy from one of the 4 lead-in letters at the front of the Annual Report from Sean De Vries, Director, Recycler Qualification Office, Electronic Products Recycling Association
“Until 2011, electronic products collected in the ESA BC program were processed by recyclers that were verified to the Electronics Recycling Standard (ERS). The ERS, first developed by Electronics Product Stewardship of Canada (EPSC) in 2004, has been revised on four occasions to ensure that it meets and reflects the unique needs of provincial stewardship programs and the electronics recycling industry. After the development of our most recent version of the standard (in 2010), and incorporating it into the broader Recycler Qualification Program (RQP), ESA BC and the other provincial programs created the Recycler Qualification Office (RQO) to manage the recycler assessment process on their behalf. Since the launch of the RQP on July 1, 2011, it has been a very busy time for the RQO, not only conducting the re-assessments of all previously audited and approved recyclers, but also assessing additional recyclers new to the RQP process. And while it was expected that the transition to this revised program would be a significant undertaking with the number of assessments required, the RQO has additionally spent a considerable amount time and effort in educating the recycling community on the requirements of the standard, in order to drive responsible recycling and ensure that the recyclers are meeting the requirements on their own accord. Having completed the assessments of the 26 previously approved Primary Recyclers, the RQO’s focus has now turned to re-assessing the 100+ previously approved downstream recyclers. In addition, now being part of the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), the RQO will work with new provincial electronics stewardship programs, including those being developed in Manitoba and Quebec in 2012.The RQO continues to look forward to working closely with each of the stewardship programs to ensure that the programs’ high environmental standards are not compromised and continue to be met by the approved recyclers.”
Of course, this is only valid until they change the standard again, and audit everyone and re-qualify them and keep ourselves in work for the rest of our foreseeable lives, perhaps handing these jobs down to the next generation. I don’t mean to sound critical – but that’s a lot of bureaucracy. The numbers are in the report, there is a scoring system, and they do talk about the things you really want to know such as actual effectiveness.
But I think I know why its $32.65 from this part of the report on its own!
Next newsletter, the Green Eye will follow the money on recycling fees and provide a look at how we are doing in terms of diverting from land fill, recycling, repurposing and solving the problems within our own country rather than shipping it “away”.
Meanwhile, please do what you can this year to reduce waste in packaging, wrapping and plastics over the holiday season. Think creatively about your gift giving, and let your new years resolutions be leaner and greener.
October 30th, 2012 - Newsletter
, The Green Eye
Guest blogger, Erich Schwartz, raises questions about the sudden availability of great quantities of certified organic products by reviewing the facts.
What if the organic certification process is inadequate and many products displaying certified organic labeling are not in fact organic? What if large companies and even countries were falsely labeling their products to reap the profits of higher prices people pay for organic products? What if these products were distributed through large retailers like Costco, Walmart and Safeway?
A client of ours kindly suggested we read a book to help us understand “what is really going on” in the Organic Food Industry. Having read the book and then going through our process of due diligence, we concluded that consumers of organic food and beverages need to start asking more questions about what’s behind all certified organic labeling and who is really benefiting.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture are responsible for certifying the certifiers in Canada and the United States respectively. There is big money to be made in labeling products as being organic, and in some industries it is the only area for growth and profit. We discovered that many businesses and countries are driven by the profit motive and are misleading consumers in their claims of offering organic foods. We have been duped, and in the interest of consumers and businesses that are pursuing organic production ethically, we need to demand action.
The recommended book is called “Is it Organic” whose author Mischa Popoff argues for the need for organic certification to be science based rather than bureaucracy based. Meaning, testing and surprise inspections should be conducted to ensure compliance rather than just the proper completion of forms. This eye opening book led us down the research path wherein we discovered numerous legal actions being pursued in the United States against companies making false claims of producing organic products.
From a business perspective, perhaps the largest corporate culprit to blatantly disregard their customers and the reputation of the organic industry as a whole is Aurora Dairy that runs industrial-scale operations in Colorado and Texas. Aurora’s activities were first flagged in 2005 by the Cornucopia Institute when it filed a legal complaint with the USDA alleging the company was using giant feedlots with over 4,000 confined cows rather than grazing as required to be certified organic. While the complaint was summarily dismissed, and even though Aurora was later noted for willfully violating 14 tenets of the organic standards, it continued to sell its non-organic milk to large chains such as Safeway, Costco, Walmart and more under an organic label.
The good news is finally, 7 years later (enough time to raise a child from birth to grade 2 on non organic milk without knowing it) Aurora is brought to justice by agreeing to pay plaintiffs $7.5 million dollars. What’s worthy of noting is that this settlement was brought about through consumer action, NOT government regulations which supports some of the assertions in Mr. Popoff’s book.
On a country wide basis, evidence suggests that China leads the way for not being in compliance with CFIA or USDA regulations. While verifiable numbers do not seem to be available, some estimate that as much as 20% of the food shipped out of China is claimed to be organic. However, in conversations with various individuals such as Keith Schneider, Senior Editor for Circle of Blue, it’s more likely that next to none of it is actually organic, knowing the condition of water and soil in this country.
“We toured one of the first authentic organic farms near Chengdu in December 2010, and there are few others in the country. In 2010, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, China applied 55.6 million metric tons of chemical fertilizer to its paddies, fields, and orchards. That’s three times more fertilizer than US grain and crop farmers used on roughly the same (300 million acres) of cultivated land. Insecticide, herbicide, and other pesticide use in China amounts to around 1.5 million metric tons annually, three times the U.S. pesticide use of just under 500,000 metric tons annually.”
This ties back to Mr. Popoff’s argument that our certification needs to be science based not form based. At Greenomics, we use the most up-to-date scientific data available when providing Sustainability Strategies and road-maps that deliver quantifiable and verifiable results. Our clients expect it of us. We should expect the same of our government regulators particularly when it concerns the health of our citizens. It is also needed to protect our growing organic industry from being under-priced by unscrupulous businesses driven purely by the profit motive without concern for society and the environment.
July 17th, 2012 - The Green Eye
Guest blogger Dan Kingsbury, DDS, explains how toxic substances pervade the dentistry profession as well as the various personal care products we use, and encourages you to engage in the conversation.
Recently I attended a dental conference seminar on toxicology where the speaker mentioned, in passing, that even Colgate toothpaste has toxic chemicals. Wait a minute, that’s my brand. I may not be a 4 out of 5 Crest dentist, but I am now curious. It’s personal.
Upon reading the small print with my magnifying glass I found, “12 hour Antibacterial Protection – Triclosan 0.3%”, so called “Advanced Protection” of Colgate. I then looked up Triclosan and found that Triclosan is found in a wide range of home products including garbage bags, toys (soothers), linens, mattresses, toilet fixtures, clothing, furniture fabric, paints, laundry detergents, mouthwashes, deodorant, facial tissues, and cosmetics.
Triclosan is a skin permeable antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral that is suspected to interfere with hormone function (endocrine disruptor) and to be irritating the skin and eyes. Triclosan is also known to be very toxic to the aquatic environment and persistent, often forming chlorophenols, polychlorinated furans and dioxins which bioaccumulate and become both carcinogenic and toxic.
Triclosan has been used since 1972, it’s everywhere: 28% of toothpastes, 30% of antiperspirants and deodorants, 25% of soaps and cleansers, 5% of moisturizers and lotions, 3% of perfumes and colognes. It’s use is so pervasive that the Canadian Medical Association has called for a ban on antibacterial consumer products that may also contribute to antibiotic resistance, and the American Medical Association recommends avoiding it entirely, yet no ban from the FDA, hmm. The problems is that triclosan is used in so many products that the small amounts found in each product add up – particularly since the chemical doesn’t degrade.
Triclosan is but one of many toxic ingredients used in cosmetics, personal care products, and home products. It turns out that there are 10,500 industrial chemicals used as cosmetic ingredients alone. Of these, if we identified a list of the “Dirty Dozen” ingredients, triclosan would surely be one of them. More revealing is that from a survey of 6,200 individuals who provided information on 12,500 personal care products, 80% reportedly had at least one ingredient and 57% had at least two ingredients from the “Dirty Dozen”.
Add to this information that women use an average of 12 and men an average of 6 personal care products and you are starting to get the idea of how pervasive and rampant this situation is for your patients, and for yourself.
People also once thought the world was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, and that there was such a thing as sunrise and sunset. Many things “everyone knows and sees” just aren’t so, and this is one of those.
As dental health practitioners we know the value of medical histories and the over all health of our patients before focusing on the mouth. Every time we do a patient examination we are looking right past all those personal care products that our patients are using, dozens of chemicals that are already known to be toxic.
The Toxic Substances Control Act was first passed in 1976 and has remained essentially unchanged—that is, toothless–for 36 years.
When the Act passed Congress it grandfathered in 62,000 chemicals, in essence giving a free pass to known toxins set at historical use levels. One such known toxin, lead, was recently reduced 10 fold in 2011 from 36 years of “acceptably safe” levels. Is this the tip of the iceberg? I assert it is!
Every time we do a patient examination we are looking right past what they are wearing and eating. Processed foods are known to have at least one GMO (genetically modified) food that is also complimented with GMO pesticides and herbicides that cannot be rinsed off. One study estimates that up to 70% of US fruits and vegetables have residual pesticides and herbicides that need to be rinsed off. Do you know that “pink slime” is being used in 70% of our school lunch program, or the average American drinks one quart of pop per day? I could go on… the point being that we don’t know very much about the industrial ingredients that are being put into our bodies or how they accumulate to affect the patient’s overall health, including your own.
Do you want to know more about the “Dirty Dozen” and how they pollute your body? A recent study found over 200 pollutants in the umbilical cord blood of infants. Among them: pesticides, perflourinated compounds, antibiotics, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Did you know that 25% of us live within four miles of a hazardous waste site. You see, it’s personal, and I can help you get started with this conversation.
I see toothpaste, I know toothpaste… or I thought I did. You only see what you know, want to know more? I am talking about the need for deep transformations in our way of seeing, from how we assume we know health, from how we assume that manufacturers would never do anything to harm our health, to how we are connected to climate change… for what is going on in our bodies is surely going on in our environment. There is something urgent going on here that we are not seeing. We need to talk about it, not green wash it.
“It is not what you know that counts, it is what you do with it that makes the difference.” – Will Rogers
March 7th, 2012 - The Green Eye
By Karen E. Peterson – Staff Writer
A February 16, 2012 press release from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) states “Without notifying their customers or PETA, Avon, Mary Kay, and Estée Lauder—which have been on PETA’s list of companies that don’t test cosmetics on animals for decades—have been quietly paying for poisoning tests on animals at the behest of the Chinese government in order to market their products in China.”
I am as surprised as PETA that this is happening and it warrants two calls to action: one is to discontinue use of the cosmetics produced by the three companies until such time as they discontinue the practice and the other is to find a way to dissuade the Chinese government from imposing these requirements.
Most companies started to ban these tests back in the late 1980’s after graphic campaigns depicting lab animals helped raise awareness and create demand for cruelty free products in the home. We continue to move forward with those sentiments in our food supply; seeking free run chicken, pushing for the end of using cages for pregnant sows, and for some becoming Vegetarian or Vegan has become more attractive as a lifestyle choice.
While the cosmetic companies sited all promote statements that they will not test on animals, they also all contain the caveat “unless specifically required to do so by government”. I don’t know how much effort went into trying to convince the “Chinese government” that the products have been used satisfactorily on humans for decades now and that the products have passed scrutiny in the EU where standards have been quite stringent. My suspicion is that access to this massive market outweighed the rights of the animals not to have chemicals dripped in their eyes or scrubbed into their skin.
The jerking in my knees comes from the not so distant memory of the melamine incidents that killed thousands of animals with tainted pet food and worse caused organ damage and loss of life to infants through tainted baby formula, and the extensive human rights abuses we hear about daily by this same government that is allegedly so concerned about their citizens applying cosmetic products on their skin after a day of hard labour. Although those are probably not the citizens who will ultimately get to use the products, rather it will be the more equal ones.
So in questioning the Chinese government and Estee, Avon and Mary, I also ask –how much animal testing is going on still to this day and why? To quote toxicologist Thomas Hartung, the Doerenkamp-Zbinden Professor and Chair for evidence-based toxicology at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, “We are not 70 kg rats.”
From an article in Science Magazine that speaks to the alternate ways in which chemicals and toxicology can be tested, it explains that these are being mapped much like the human genome, only being called “toxome” by Hartung. Of all things, the massive oil spill in 2010 from the stricken Deepwater Horizon, presented the opportunity to showcase some of the new technologies as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) struggled to assess the safety of the chemical dispersants being used to treat that oil.
“Eight commercial dispersants and 23 reference compounds were put through the analytical ringer, being probed for their cytotoxicity and activity on some 73 transcription factors, and—because one component of several of these dispersants was nonylphenol ethoxylate, a known “endocrine disruptor” for their ability to activate estrogen and/or androgen-responsive pathways. The take-home message from this analysis was that the compound then in use, Corexit 9500 appeared relatively safe, at least regarding endocrine activity. But perhaps the bigger take-home message concerns how those data were collected. Rather than laboratory animals, the traditional go-to method of toxicity testing, the research team used a high throughput cell culture-based approach, finishing their analysis in about two weeks.
Ok – so faster and less cruel – but oh, so expensive with hundreds of millions of dollars being invested. That means less countries will have the available funding to use the non-animal methodology. But the information is being shared, and the maps provide insight into the likely results of certain chemical compounds, thus reducing the need to test everything.
Some 55,000 chemicals or more were grandfathered in when the U.S. Congress first passed the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976. About 100,000 chemicals are similarly situated in Europe. No toxicological data has ever been filed on most of those, a “knowledge gap” that represents the vast majority of compounds in use today.
ToxCast is part of a broader federal program called Tox21, in which the EPA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are collaborating to rapidly put some 10,000 compounds through 30 assays in 1,536-well plates on a robotic platform at the NIH Chemical Genomics Center in Rockville, Maryland. The goal is to map the complete set of biochemical pathways implicated in toxicologic responses, so that more targeted assays of toxicity may be developed.
According to the article, Industry, too, is moving away from animal testing. Proctor & Gamble (P&G), for instance, has been developing animal-free alternatives to toxicology testing for nearly 30 years, says Len Sauers, the company’s vice president for global sustainability. “The ethical and moral issue is a primary driver, but there are some real business drivers for wanting to get out of animal testing,” he says. Over the years, he says, P&G’s toxicologists—there currently are 150 on staff—have developed some 50 methods and published nearly 1,000 papers on the subject.
“P&G employs a multi-tiered process for toxicology testing. The first step, says Sauers, is structure-activity relationship (SAR) analysis. To feed those SAR studies, the company has compiled a database of “every toxicity study that’s ever been run and is in the public literature,” says George Daston, a Victor Mills Society Research Fellow at P&G, including published papers, public domain EPA submissions, and so on. “That literally results in hundreds of thousands if not one million or so line item pieces of information on the toxicity of materials,” he says.
“That database allows the company to make intelligent predictions about possible toxicities, and to test them directly. For instance, Daston says, perhaps some new ingredient has a structural fragment that previously has been associated with thyroid peroxidase inhibition. “We’ll just set up an assay and evaluate the new chemical and see whether it does that.”
So is this the beginning of the end of animal testing?
Sadly there is this:
For P&G, this emphasis of animal-free testing has reduced animal testing dramatically. Ninety-nine percent of our assessments today are done without animal testing. As the toxome comes into focus and the platforms become more widespread, the broader research community can likewise reduce their animal usage. Yet no matter how sophisticated the system, cell culture and in vitro assays—not to mention computer models—are just no match for live animals whose many organ systems and cell types can react differently to chemical agents. For instance, researchers cannot reliably predict a priori a chemical’s bioavailability and biodistribution as well as how it will be processed in the liver. “We’re very good with in vitro methods at telling you, assuming a chemical reaches a cell, what happens,” says Maurice Whelan, head of the systems toxicology unit at the European Commission Joint Research Centre. “We’re not very good at saying how much of that chemical will be bioavailable in a certain tissue over time based on the exposure.”
“Some animal testing is thus inevitable, especially as pharmaceuticals are not covered by the European testing bans. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be improvements. For decades, the mantra in the world of laboratory animals has been the so-called 3Rs, which encourages researchers to Reduce the number of animals they use, Refine the assays to reduce distress, pain, and suffering, and ultimately, Replace animals with alternative methods.“
The U.S. regulatory body charged with validating animal-free alternatives, called Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods, has to date approved 44 such methods. The equivalent European body has validated six more in such areas as eye irritation and reproductive toxicity. Yet one area for which no alternatives exist is long-term toxicity testing—mimicking, for instance, the allergic responses that might result from repeated, long-term exposure to a chemical.
Researchers are on the case, but the bottom line, says Robert Kavlock, director of the U.S. EPA National Center for Computational Toxicology (NCCT), “is we’re a long way away from animal-free toxicology.”
I am heartened that there have been great strides and disappointed that there is still suffering no matter how minimalized. I still believe that it is completely unacceptable to ask for (and to provide) testing on animals to enable product lines that are tested acceptably in North America and Europe to be imported to China. So I choose not to support Mary Kay, Estee Lauder and Avon or any other company that willingly goes back to test an already marketed product on animals.
Note: PETA is financially supporting the efforts of the Institute for In Vitro Sciences (IIVS.org) to promote the Chinese government’s acceptance of non-animal testing methods that are in wide use in the U.S. and the E.U. IIVS is spearheading an international consortium to represent companies that wish to market in countries where tests on animals are required.
January 16th, 2012 - Newsletter
, The Green Eye
By Karen E. Peterson – Staff Writer
I have RSS feeds and automatic subscriptions to a plethora of Sustainable/Green/Business online magazines, newsletters and informational sites. I scan them for common themes and scroll through quickly to pick up the threads of current conversations.
For example today I picked up that there was a significant bust related to stolen recyclable plastic (definitely a sign of our times), the EPA’s 2010 national analysis of its Toxics Release Inventory indicated that the release of toxics are actually up from the prior years’ data (boo), more electric vehicles are being designed (even VW coming out with an e-Bugster) and everyone is busy with their predictions for 2012 or summaries of the prior year – as is common for January (Greenomics does this too.)
But one of the writers decided that instead of looking to the future for our groundbreaking technologies and innovations – we should be looking around the corner. While I appreciate what he is saying, I find that we are all really into saying things these days – like we are looking for innovation in language itself. Hmmm. Maybe we should be looking down the alley or how about scanning the dumpster? Got me thinking about how we are using language in the Business of Sustainability.
One of the things I find interesting and useful but also irksome is the continued addition of terms and the need for redefining them. I know they all are important and specific to different things like supply chain management and not all of them are that hard to remember because they paint a reasonable picture in our minds– closed loops, cradle to cradle, biomimicry are all good examples. While we introduce this vocabulary to the mainstream to describe processes and resource usage I suspect we lose ever more people’s interest because they cant keep up with the jargon. No one likes to feel like they are out of the closed loop.
There is the added problem that comes from Greenwashing which is an abuse of words at its finest – eco in the front of anything is good, like eco-clean, or enviro – perhaps there should be an enviro-girl and she has green tights, but no cape. She will fight stains in her laundry and the bathtub with eco-alert enviro-particles. But most of us are used to this type of marketing – think of the invented names for facial creams; “micro vive cellular extending molecules”.
The other problem is the boring debate between professionals who are specialists in one field or the other. I did rather enjoy an article that talked about the difference between eco-efficiency and sustainability and that is because it answered for me why I am so uncomfortable every time they trot out Wal-Mart as a shining example of anything. The difference in these words is resource use versus resource availability.
Measuring how much water or energy we used compared to last year is simply about use itself and if we use less of anything – that must be better. But the main point is that we need to look at the location of the business, how much water is actually available and reasonably shared by the community at large, and what should be the prorata allotment to the business compared to what it takes out of the system. Is it sustainable at the current rate? And what if companies actually reported in those terms?
Because I have to say when I hear that someone used a whole lot less of anything than they did before I think –Wow, they are putting a really good spin on the fact that they were horribly inefficient and irresponsible with their resource use. Damn straight they better fix that before somebody catches on and determines fees and regulations around paying for those inefficiencies and waste…but then that’s probably just around the corner.
"Garbage Gold Rush"
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