Microplastics in Food, Water & Air: Can We Avoid Them?

January 28, 2020

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared:
E-The Environmental Magazine, 24-Jan, 2020
Fullerton Observer, 24-Jan, 2020
Escondido Grapevine, 01-Feb, 2020
Times of San Diego, 10-Feb, 2020

Seafood, bottled water & indoor air are significant sources of microplastics ingestion

You’re likely taking in tiny particles of plastics every time you eat, drink and breathe, according to a growing body of research into the risks to human health from the buildup of plastic debris in the environment. Although scientists haven’t yet delineated the specific harms, there’s reason enough to worry.

Microplastics (MP) result from the breakdown into ever smaller bits of everyday plastic discards, like packaging, children’s toys, and synthetic clothing and carpeting. Despite their small dimension (sometimes invisible), MP are still made of long-chain polymer molecules that make plastics resistant to bio-degradation.

Consequently, MP (both micro-particulates and microfibers) are ubiquitous now in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems worldwide, and there’s little mystery as to why.

Since the dawn of the Age of Plastics ~1950, humans have enjoyed a love affair with single-use disposables and basically anything that can be formed from cheap polymer feedstocks. In 2018, worldwide plastics production had risen to 359 million tonnes, tripling since just 1990. Despite encouraging signs that people are starting to worry about plastic pollution – over 120 countries have banned plastic bags – global plastic production is still rising.

As of 2015, 60 percent of all plastics ever produced had accumulated in landfills or, courtesy of human negligence, the environment. MP are building up in farmland soils, lakes, oceans, and the air we breathe. Amassing of MP is seen in environs as remote as the Arctic.

It should be no surprise that MP are showing up on our dinner plates and in our poop.

To estimate annual ingestion of MP by typical Americans, Canadian scientists reviewed all studies to date on MP in drinking water (tap and bottled), beer, foods commonly consumed by Americans (sea foods, honey, sugar and table salt) and air (indoor and outdoor). Data on other major food groups were not yet available.

Read the rest of this entry »


What Do Beer, Oysters, Salt, Air & Tap Water Have in Common?

November 10, 2018

They’re all ways humans are ingesting microplastics

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Shorter versions appeared in:
Los Angeles Daily News, 08-Dec, 2018
Long Beach Press Telegram,
08-Dec, 2018
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin,
08-Dec,, 2018
San Bernardino Sun, 08-Dec, 2018
Whittier Daily News,
08-Dec, 2018
Riverside Press-Enterprise, 08-Dec, 2018
Redlands Daily Facts, 08-Dec, 2018
Pasadena Star-News, 08-Dec, 2018
San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 08-Dec, 2018
OC Register, 09-Dec, 2018 (p. H3)
Escondido Grapevine, 13-Dec, 2018
San Diego Free Press, 14-Dec, 2018
Natural Life Magazine, 16-Dec, 2018
Times of San Diego, 17-Dec, 2018
E-Magazine, 03-Jan, 2019

It was just two decades ago that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast circulating accumulation of plastic debris in the North Pacific, was discovered by accident. Since then, plastic pollution has been found to be ubiquitous in natural environments worldwide, including the open waters and sediments of oceans, lakes and rivers and even in soil and air.

It’s no wonder then that the tissues of wildlife as diverse as whales, seabirds, fish and zooplankton, all which ingest plastic debris, are polluted by plastics. Given that, it would be naïve to think that humans, who share the same global environment and eat at the top of the food chain, are somehow spared contamination.

Though no one has yet measured how much plastic pollution humans might be carrying around, there is plenty of evidence we’re taking the stuff in, by eating, drinking and even just breathing. This is frightening to contemplate because plastics carry potential health risks associated with chemicals both manufactured into them and later picked up from the environment.

Plastics for Dinner?

Discovery of seabird and whale carcasses chock full of visible plastic waste sparked concern that sea creatures consumed by humans might be imbibing plastics too. The broad picture emerging from a plethora of research is that plastic debris is being taken up by sea life throughout the ocean food web, including tiny fish that feed on plankton, fish that feed on smaller fish, shellfish, turtles and dolphins.

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Ticking Time Bomb at San Onofre Nuclear Plant

December 29, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Voice of OC, 01-Jan, 2018
Fullerton Observer, Jan, 2018
San Diego Free Press, 03-Jan, 2018
E-Magazine, 05-Jan, 2018
Times of San Diego, 06-Jan, 2018
Escondido Grapevine, 21-Jan, 2018

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) abuts I-5 Fwy and ocean. Photo: Jelson25, Wikimedia Commons.

The seaside nuclear reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente were permanently shut down in 2013 following steam generator malfunction. What to do with the 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive waste remains an epic problem, however, pitting concerned citizens against Southern California Edison, the California Coastal Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Edison operates San Onofre, the Coastal Commission is charged with protecting the coastline, and the NRC is responsible for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel and protecting the public.

The Problem
A reactor’s spent nuclear fuel must be stored safely for 250,000 years to allow the radioactivity to dissipate. San Onofre’s nuclear waste has been stored in containers 20 feet under water in cooling pools for at least five years, the standard procedure for on-site temporary storage. Long-term storage necessitates transfer to fortified dry-storage canisters for eventual transportation to a permanent national storage site which, under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the federal government is under obligation to construct.

However, the plan to build an underground repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevadan desert was ditched in 2011 out of concern that deep groundwater could destabilize the canisters, leaving the United States with literally no plan on the horizon for permanent storage of nuclear waste from San Onofre or any other of the country’s nuclear power plants. In fact, under the NRC’s newest plan – the so-called Generic Environmental Impact Statement – nuclear power plant waste might be stored on-site forever.

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Plastic Ocean Pollution a Driver of Climate Change?

October 27, 2017

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Versions have appeared:
Escondido Grapevine, 05-Dec, 2017
Fullerton Observer, Mid-Nov, 2017 (p.17)
Algalita Marine Research Foundation Blog, 05-Nov, 2017
Daily Pilot, 03-Nov, 2017
Voice of OC, 02-Nov, 2017
San Diego Free Press, 02-Nov., 2017
Times of San Diego, 31-Oct, 2017
E-The Environmental Magazine, 27-Oct, 2017

Tiny lanternfish is vital to carbon sequestration in ocean.

Though burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, fossil fuels could also be driving climate change via a completely different mechanism involving ocean plastic debris and tiny, bioluminescent fish living hundreds of meters beneath the ocean’s surface.

Lanternfish (aka myctophids) are only a few inches long typically but so ubiquitous that they account for over half the ocean’s total fish-mass. They are vital to the ocean’s ability to sequester more carbon than all the world’s forests do on land through a daily mass migration that plays out in all seven seas.

By day, lanternfish avoid predators in deep, dimly lit waters, but they ascend nightly to the surface to gorge on carbon-rich plankton before descending back down where they deposit their carbon-rich poop. They also sequester carbon when eaten by larger fish.

Carbon sequestration by lanternfish is central to the overall role of marine environments in reducing human-caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere – by an estimated 20-35 percent.

Thus, anything harmful to lanternfish could hinder the ocean’s capacity to act as a carbon sink. Alarming evidence that small bits of floating plastic debris resemble the plankton lanternfish feast on could spell trouble for them and, consequently, the climate. Read the rest of this entry »


Greening Your Wardrobe

September 29, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Natural Life Magazine, Oct issue, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 04 Oct, 2016
EarthTalk, 05 Oct, 2016

apparel-clothingWhat typically comes to mind when contemplating our personal environmental footprint is the energy efficiency of the car we drive, how religiously we recycle, and maybe whether or not we have a water thirsty lawn. However, everything we do and own has impacts on the environment, and that includes the choices we make in dressing ourselves.

This point was driven home in a smart little book published in 1997 titled, “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things,” which describes the planetary impacts of everyday material goods. One chapter details what goes into producing a wardrobe basic, the cotton/polyester blend T-shirt.

A few highlights include the overseas extraction of the crude oil from which polyester is synthesized, the energy and pesticide intensive process of growing and harvesting cotton, and transporting milled fabrics abroad and back again so they can be sewn into T-shirts by cheap foreign labor.

From this T-shirt saga emerges a simple truth: The T-shirts with the least environmental impact are the ones you already own, or maybe ones purchased at a secondhand shop.

Nonetheless, clothes do wear out and wardrobe adjustments become necessary when we take on new jobs or sports, change weight or treat ourselves to the latest fashion. So the question remains how to make apparel selections which better protect both the environment and the people involved in the production process. The good news is that there are already more sustainable clothing options on the market, plus there is game-changing movement within the apparel industry to provide consumers with a point of purchase “index” conveying the environmental footprint of items being offered. Read the rest of this entry »


A Twofer: Carbon Tax Solves Both Climate Change and Plastic Ocean Pollution

May 3, 2016

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Published:
Algalita Marine Research Institute Blog, 03 May, 2016
San Diego Free Press, 09 May, 2016
EarthTalk, 09 May, 2016
Fullerton Observer, mid-May, 2016, p.8

Global mean surface temperature change from 1880 to 2014, relative to the 1951–1980 mean. Source: NASA GISS.

Global mean surface temperature change from 1880 to 2014, relative to the 1951–1980 mean. Source: NASA GISS.

For more than half a century, cheaply-priced fossil fuels have come to define the American dream. We travel freely in gasoline powered vehicles and rely on coal, oil and natural gas for heating, cooling and operating electrical devices.

In addition, everything possible is now fashioned from plastic polymers derived from petroleum or natural gas. We’ve abandoned the “reuse and repair it” mindset of the pre-WWII era and embraced instead a “throw away” plastic consumer culture.

The most urgent environmental crises today are undeniably global climate change and the buildup of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. Both are harmful externalities of the fossil fuel industry: impacts, like pollution, not reflected in the cost of the products but paid for instead by some third party.

In this case, the third party is the global public that suffers the health and monetary consequences of both climate change and ocean plastic pollution.

Read the rest of this entry »


Five Reasons to Pee in Your Garden

October 18, 2014

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Surf City Voice, 26 Oct, 2014
EarthTalk, 01 Nov, 2014
San Diego Free Press, 05 Nov, 2014
Fullerton Observer, Mid Nov, 2014

Photo: Laura Silverstein

Photo: Laura Silverstein

I confess, my husband and I both pee in our backyard garden, waiting until nightfall so as not to surprise neighbors.

We’ve always been comfortable relieving ourselves alongside lonely highways, even in daylight when waiting for the next bathroom seems unreasonable. But peeing in our own garden started as something of a lark, a combo of enjoying feeling a little naughty while also stealing a moment to take in the stillness of the night.

However, after a little research into the contents of urine and the ecological footprint of toilet flushing, I’m approaching my nightly garden visitations with a renewed sense of purpose, armed with sound reasons to continue the habit.

#1 Urine is a good fertilizer, organic and free
C
ontrary to popular belief, urine is usually germ-free unless contaminated with feces. It’s also about 95 percent water. The chief dissolved nutrient is urea, a nitrogen (N)-rich waste metabolite of the liver. Consequently, urine is high in N. Synthesized urea, identical to urea in urine, is also the number one ingredient of manufactured urea fertilizers which now dominate farming industry. Furthermore, urine contains lower amounts of the other two main macronutrients needed for healthy plant growth, phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).

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Diasappearing ocean plastics is nothing to celebrate

August 1, 2014

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Plastics in the food chain

Plastics in the food chain

Appeared:
San Diego Free Press, 02 Aug, 2014
Surf City Voice, 04 Aug, 2014
Algalita Marine Research Blog, 21 Aug, 2014
EarthTalk, 4 Dec, 2014

You’d think that finding far less plastic pollution on the ocean’s surface than scientists expected would be something to cheer about. The reality, however, is that this is likely bad news, for both the ocean food web and humans eating at the top. Ingestion of tiny plastic debris by sea creatures likely explains the plastics’ disappearance and exposes a worrisome entry point for risky chemicals into the food web.

Except for a transient slowdown during the recent economic recession, global plastics consumption has risen steadily since plastic materials were introduced in the 1950s and subsequently incorporated into nearly every facet of modern life. Annual global consumption is already about 300 million tons with no foreseeable leveling off as markets expand in the Asia-Pacific region and new applications are conceived every day.

Land-based sources are responsible for the lion’s share of plastic waste entering the oceans: littering, wind-blown trash escaping from trash cans and landfills, and storm drain runoff when the capacity of water treatment plants is exceeded. Furthermore, recent studies reveal an alarming worldwide marine buildup of microplastics (defined as a millimeter or less) from two other previously unrecognized sources. Spherical plastic microbeads, no more than a half millimeter, are manufactured into skin care products and designed to be washed down the drain but escape water treatment plants not equipped to capture them. Plastic microfibers from laundering polyester fabrics find their way to the ocean via the same route.

Given that plastics do not biodegrade within any meaningful human time-scale, it’s been assumed that the quantity of plastic pollution measured over time on the surface waters of the ocean will mirror global plastics production and hence should be rising. However, regional sampling over time indicates that plastic debris in surface waters has been rather static since the 1980s.

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Youthful skin comes at cost to ocean food web

May 29, 2014

Time to eliminate plastic micro-bead exfoliants

By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:
Surf City Voice, 29-May, 2014
E-Magazine Blog, 29-May, 2014
Fullerton Observer, Early June, 2014, p. 9
Algalita Marine Research Blog, 04-June, 2014
Southern Sierran, 18-June, 2014
San Diego Free Press,
25-June, 2014
Natural Life Magazine, July/August, 2014

Biodegradable alternatives to plastic micro-beads

Biodegradable alternatives to plastic micro-beads (Wikimedia Commons)

The beauty industry hits hard on the importance of frequent exfoliation to keep skin looking younger and healthy. Spherical plastic micro-bead scrubbers, no larger than a half millimeter, have been introduced into hundreds of skin care products in recent decades, but scientists are discovering that the ocean food web, and maybe human health, could be imperiled as a result.

As babies, skin cells are replaced every two weeks, but by age 50 the turnover rate has slowed to six weeks or longer, fostering wrinkles and other unwelcome signs of aging. Products containing plastic micro-beads profess to speed up cell rejuvenation, and their popularity signals that consumers have bought into the promise of exfoliating your way to a more youthful look. Whether or not such products deliver on this promise, scientists have discovered that these innocent-looking plastic micro-beads are insidious little transporters of chemical pollutants into lakes, streams and oceans and maybe onto our dinner plates.

Micro-beads are usually made of polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), and like other plastics, they’re thought to persist in the environment for a hundred years or more. They’re added to facial scrubs, body washes, soap bars, toothpastes and even sunscreens and designed to be washed down the drain. However, micro-beads commonly escape waste treatment plants and pollute bodies of water, because the plants aren’t designed to eliminate them or because wastewater is diverted directly to local waterways in heavier rains.

Read the rest of this entry »


What are We Feeding Fido, and Why?

February 26, 2014

Food for Thought

Dog Food Bowl 2By Sarah “Steve” Mosko

Appeared:

  • San Diego Free Press, 20 Sept, 2014
  • Natural Life Magazine, May/June, 2014

My journey into the world of dog food ingredients began when my two-year-old mutts, Olive and Dexi, embarked on a hunger strike of sorts. They’d circle around their food bowls a foot away, sniffing all the while, only to walk away in protest before getting close enough to really get a good look. It felt as though they thought I might be trying to poison them, or at least pull a fast one of some sort.

I served what I thought were top-tier kibble and wet foods, never skimping on price and offering plenty of variety to avert boredom. I changed commercial foods numerous times, trying every ilk of so-called natural lines marketed as organic, grain-free and the like, yet still my offerings were snubbed. I’ll never know if they actually conspired to get my attention, but get my attention they did when they’d go two days without eating a bite, ostensibly giving in only when hunger forced them to.

I became convinced Olive and Dexi were rejecting the meals based on odor, inspiring my 3-part investigation into dog foods: first, to understand the canine sense of smell; second, to master commercial dog food labeling; and third, to discern what canine diet might really be best. I’ve concluded that the answer to the latter might not be as simple as one would wish.

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Mid-Ocean Plastics Cleanup Schemes: Too Little Too Late?

May 27, 2013

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Plastic debris from N. Pacific Gyre.
(Algalita Marine Research Institute)

Imagine using a thimble to empty a bathtub, with the faucet still running. That’s how experts on ocean plastics pollution generally see schemes focused on extracting the debris from the open ocean instead of strategies to prevent plastic waste from getting there in the first place.

Interest in methods to rid the oceans of plastic debris is motivated by very real threats to the entire ocean food web. The “North Pacific Garbage Patch” is the most studied of the five subtropical gyres, gigantic whirlpools where waste is picked up and concentrated by slow-swirling currents. There, plastic debris already outweighs zooplankton, tiny creatures at the base of the food web, by a factor of 36:1, according to the latest trawls by the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, CA.

Subtropical gures

The 5 subtropical gyres.

Conventional plastics do not biodegrade on land or in water, but become brittle in sunlight and break apart into ever smaller bits of plastic, still containing toxic substances introduced during manufacture – like phthalates, bisphenol-A and flame retardants. Plastics also attract and concentrate persistent oily pollutants present in seawater. So plastic debris not only threatens sea creatures through entanglement or by clogging their digestive tracts, but also introduces dangerous chemicals into the food chain.

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Plastics-Free Living: Beyond the Low Hanging Fruit

March 29, 2013

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

Low hanging fruit tree

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps you already bring your own reusable grocery bags, have kicked the bottled water habit and know better than to microwave in plastics, but still find daily life swimming in plastics and want to use less of it.  After recycling, the average American still generates a half pound of plastic refuse daily, a concrete indicator of how deeply entrenched are plastic materials in our 21st century lifestyle (USEPA, 2010).

Rational reasons to cut back on plastics fall into one of two spheres: limiting exposure to hazardous chemicals associated with plastics – like bisphenol-A, phthalates and flame retardants – or reducing the harm to the environment incurred at all stages in plastics’ lifecycle, from extraction of the petroleum needed for manufacturing to disposal of the non-biodegradable finished products.

Short of adopting a Tarzan-like jungle existence, it’s probably impossible to completely eliminate plastics from modern day life, but with a little digging and shopping savvy, you can enlarge that dent in your plastics consumption.  Some ideas follow.

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Chemicals in Plastics Foster Diseases Passed on to Future Generations

February 14, 2013

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared: Algalita Marine Research Blog, 20-Feb, 2013

Endocrine disrupting things

Common objects contain endocrine disruptors

In pregnant women, exposure today to endocrine-disrupting substances common in everyday plastics might not only be adversely affecting the health of their fetuses, but the health and fertility of their future great grandchildren might also be at risk, according to a laboratory study just published in January.  The health risks are not handed down via changes to the genetic DNA code (i.e. gene mutations), but rather through a parallel biological scheme of coding known as “epigenetics.”

Background
Traits are passed from one generation to the next through two distinct but interacting vehicles of inheritance.  The genes that make up our DNA were once thought to contain the entire blueprint for all inherited traits. For some time, however, scientists have understood the critical role of another coding system that literally sits atop the DNA and instructs genes to turn on or off.  Because all cells in a given animal or human have the same DNA sequence as the original fertilized egg and sperm, another mechanism is needed to explain how cell differentiation occurs during development so that a heart cell, for example, ends up so different from, say, a brain or skin cell.

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Plastic Debris Delivers Triple Toxic Whammy, Ocean Study Shows

January 22, 2013

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Published in:

  • E-the Environmental Magazine, 11-Mar & 07-Aug, 2013
  • Fullerton Observer, Early Mar, 2013, p.11
  • Southern Sierran News Blog, 05-Feb, 2013
  • Algalita Marine Research Blog, 02-Feb, 2013
  • Surf City Voice, 30-Jan, 2013
  • Santa Monica Daily Press, 27-Jan, 2013

nurdles 7While plastic refuse on land is a familiar eyesore as litter and a burden on our landfills, in the marine environment it can be lethal to sea creatures by way of ingestion or entanglement. Now, an important new study adds to a growing body of evidence that ocean plastic debris is also a threat to humans because plastics are vehicles for introducing toxic chemicals of three sources into the ocean food web.

Background
Two of the sources are intrinsic to the plastic material itself, introduced during manufacturing, and have been described in previous studies. The first is the very building blocks of plastic polymers, called monomers, which are linked during polymerization. However, polymerization is never complete, always leaving some monomers unattached and free to migrate out into whatever medium the plastic comes in contact, like foods/beverages or the guts of a sea creature that mistook it for food. Some monomers are known to be inherently toxic, like the carcinogen vinyl chloride that makes up polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, or the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA) that makes up polycarbonate plastics.

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Bioplastics: Are They the Solution?

October 8, 2012

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Published in:

Throwaway living debuts after WWII
(Photo: Peter Stackpole, 1955)

Bioplastics are simply plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, like plants and microorganisms, whereas conventional plastics are synthesized from non-renewable fossil fuels, either petroleum or natural gas. It’s a common misconception, however, that a bioplastic necessarily breaks down better in the environment than conventional plastics.

Bioplastics are nevertheless marketed as being better for the environment, but how do they really compare?

The Problems with Petroleum-Based Plastics
The push to develop bioplastics emerges from alarming realities starting with the staggering quantity of plastics being produced, over 20 pounds a month for every U.S. resident, according to the latest numbers from the American Chemistry Council.

Conventional plastics do not biodegrade (defined below) within any meaningful human timescale – they just break apart into smaller plastic fragments. Also, the overall recycling rates for plastics remain fairly low, eight percent in the United States and 24 percent in the European Union in 2010 for example, in large part because plastic products contain unique proprietary blends of additives which prevent recycling of mixed batches of products back into the original products. So, unlike glass and aluminum which can be recycled in a closed loop, most plastics recycling is considered “down-cycling” into lower quality, hybrid-plastic end-products, like lumber or clothing, which aren’t recycled again. This means that, except for the fraction of plastic that is combusted for energy production, all plastics eventually end up as trash, either in landfills or as litter.

Petroleum and natural gas are actually organic substances, but why plastics synthesized from them do not biodegrade is straightforward. The exceptionally strong carbon-carbon bonds created to form the backbone of plastic polymers do not occur naturally in nature so are foreign to microorganisms which readily eat up other organic materials.

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Debranding Movement

June 29, 2012

Debranding Movement Takes on Consumerism
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared:

  • PopularResistance.org, 3 Aug 2013
  • Fullerton Observer, Aug 2012, p 11
  • Culture Change29 June, 2012

The smiling inverted “Mr. Cart” logo is free to anyone and takes a swipe at consumerism

Thinking of tossing out a brand name shirt, handbag or backpack purchased with zeal last year but now seems so yesterday? Well, don’t. Debrand it instead to give it renewed life and do the environment a favor too.

What better symbols of the culture of consumerism than branding and logos. Marketers use these visuals in relentless campaigns to convince us that their brand of this or that is more desirable than the rest and that we can’t, and shouldn’t, live without it.

Marketers are not much interested, however, in what happens to all the frivolous extras and redundancies we amass once our attention shifts to the next brand or model that catches our fancy.

Older purchases which have lost their allure may collect dust for a while in a closet, or might even be given a second life if donated to charity, but either way likely end up as fodder for landfills.

People’s everyday refuse is classified as municipal solid waste (MSW). Because waste generation parallels consumption, MSW is a fair yardstick of a society’s consumerism. In the United States, per capita MSW generation rose from 2.68 pounds per day in 1960 to 4.43 pounds in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About one-third of this waste stream is currently siphoned off through recycling and composting, and another 12 percent is combusted for energy production. Landfills have to absorb the remaining 2.4 pounds per person of daily rubbish.

Although many of us may feel put off by the material excess we see in others, and even in ourselves, we mostly feel powerless to change it. However, a few rebellious heroes have found ingenious ways to fight back at materialism through various forms of “debranding,” playful assaults on the very symbols of consumerism.

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Greener Laundry: Avoid Polyester

November 1, 2011

Greening Laundry Day: Avoid Polyester Fabrics
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • Algalita Marine Research Blog, 20 Aug ’12
  • Natural Life Magazine, Mar/Apr issue 2012
  • Surf City Voice as “Microplastics: Avoid polyester fabrics to help prevent ocean pollution,” 06 Nov 11
  • Culture Change, 05 Nov 11

A single polyester garment can shed >1900 plastic microfibers per wash

If you have already switched to an eco-friendly laundry detergent, as many people do to contribute less to water pollution, you might be surprised to learn that the pollution you generate on wash day has as much to do with the kind of fabrics your clothes, bedding and towels are made of as the detergent you wash them in. Recent studies have revealed that a single garment made of polyester can shed innumerable tiny fibers into the wash water, and those fibers are finding their way to the ocean. The pollution they cause is worsened by the fact that, like plastic materials in general, polyester attracts oily pollutants in seawater so is a vehicle for the transfer of potentially dangerous chemicals into the food web when the fibers are ingested by sea creatures.

Although we don’t usually think of polyester fabrics as plastic per se, polyester is nonetheless a plastic material synthesized from crude oil and natural gas. And, like other plastics, polyester is a long polymer chain, making it non-biodegradable in any practical human scale of time, especially in the ocean because of the cooler temperatures.

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Huntington Next to Ban Bags?

August 14, 2011

Huntington Beach Next City to Ban Plastic Bags?
By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in: Surf City Voice, 14 Aug 2011

On August 1st, Long Beach became the thirteenth jurisdiction within California to ban single-use plastic carryout bags at supermarkets and large retailers. Huntington Beach (HB) could soon join that list if HB City Council members Connie Boardman, Devin Dwyer and Joe Shaw can convince other council members.

A proposal to develop an ordinance to ban flimsy, disposable plastic carryout bags is on the Monday, August 15 HB City Council meeting agenda.

If a HB ordinance were to be modeled after the Long Beach one, it would also include a 10 cent customer fee for each paper bag dispensed, as the goal is not to convert to disposable paper bags but rather to encourage use of reusable bags which can be used over 100 times.

The Long Beach ban took effect after a pivotal unanimous California Supreme Court decision on July 14 which eases the way for local plastic bag bans by ruling that the City of Manhattan Beach did not have to complete a lengthy study of the environmental impact of disposable paper bags before baring retailers from dispensing plastic ones.

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The Poop on Biosolids

May 5, 2011

OC Sanitation District’s sewage recycling garners awards and fierce criticism

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared in:

People flush the toilet maybe five to 10 times a day. Ever wonder where it all goes and, once it gets there, what they do with it?

On a per capita basis, Orange County (OC) homes, businesses and industry together generate over 80 gallons each day of raw sewage from toilet flushing, bathing, housekeeping and discharging industrial waste into drains. Most of us care not to think about sewage once it’s out of sight.

However, thinking about sewage, and what best do with it, is exactly what the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) does.

OCSD serves 21 cities with a total population of 2.5 million and in 2010 treated an average daily sewage inflow of 208 million gallons, enough to fill Angel stadium nearly three times. Its Biosolids Management Program (BMP), which converts the solid components of sewage into either soil amendments or fuel, has recently won awards for innovation and environmental stewardship but has also elicited opposition from parties claiming it is unsafe for both people and the environment because of the contaminants still present. Read the rest of this entry »


“BPA-Free” No Guarantee

March 11, 2011

“BPA-Free” Label No Guarantee That Plastics Are Safe
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared:

The bad reputation recently earned by BPA or bisphenol A, a chemical constituent of polycarbonate resin plastics, is probably well-deserved because it is an estrogen hormone mimic linked in hundreds of studies to potentially adverse health effects in mammals ranging from cancers and infertility to diabetes and obesity.

Fetal and juvenile mammals are particularly sensitive to exposure to low doses of estrogen mimics, raising particular concerns about BPA-containing plastics that infants and toddlers might encounter. Consequently, some manufacturers of baby bottles, water bottles and other plastic products are now marketing items as “BPA-free.”

Unfortunately, a “BPA-free” label offers no assurance that a product won’t leach chemicals with estrogenic activity (EA), according to a study appearing in the online March 2 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. In fact, the study measured EA leaching from all sorts of food-contact plastic products made with resins other than polycarbonate.

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Water Down the Drain

January 22, 2011
 SoCal squanders badly needed rainwater, but there are solutions

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared:

Southern Sierran, Jul-Aug 2011, p. 6
Fullerton Observer,
Early Mar 2011, p. 20
Surf City Voice, 21 Jan 2011

Linked rain barrels reap even more rainfall

What’s wrong with this picture? Southern California (SoCal) imports about half of its water from northern California and the Colorado River while flagrantly neglecting to put precious local rainfall to use.

This misguided water policy contributes to the now threatened ecosystems of both those distant water sources as well as global climate change via the enormous energy expended in transporting water over such distances.

What’s more, SoCal manages its rainfall through a storm drain system that directly contributes to ocean pollution.

No wonder northern Californians are reputed to be less than enamored with their neighbors to the south.

The heavy downpours which made December 2010 one of the wettest in SoCal history serve as a reminder that, despite being semi-arid, the region’s rainfall is by no means inconsequential and might be put to better use than overwhelming sewer systems and polluting coastal waters.

Read the rest of this entry »


American Energy Footprint

December 5, 2010

The “Stuff” of the American Energy Footprint

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared:

  • PopularResistance.org, 25 Jun 2013
  • E-Magazine as “Buying Season,” 12 Dec 2011
  • Vall -E-Vents Sierra Club Newsletter, Sept 2011
  • Fullerton Observer as “How to Reduce America’s Energy Footprint,” mid Dec 2010, p.20
  • Truthout.org, 14 Dec 2010
  • CultureChange.org, 9 Dec 2010
  • Surf City Voice as “How to Shrink America’s Energy Footprint,” 5 Dec 2010

Americans today are generally aware that we consume far more energy per capita than most of the world’s peoples, over four times the world average and double that of regions like Japan and Europe which enjoy a similar standard of living. Most of us reflect on home gas and electric bills plus the fuel pumped into our cars’ gas tanks when judging our personl energy footprints.

But in reality it is all the “stuff” Americans accumulate that contributes most heavily to our total energy consumption. To understand why this is true, it is necessary to first get a handle on the ways societies utilize energy.

By convention, the energy-consuming activities of society are divided into the four sectors described below: residential, commercial, industry and transportation. The pie chart below shows the percentage of total U.S. energy delivered in a year to each sector, according to recent U.S. Energy Information Administration figures. Note that the very same pie chart describes the average per capita energy consumption of Americans in the four sectors.

The residential sector reflects the energy used to run our homes (to power lighting, appliances and heating & cooling systems) and, at 15 percent, it is the next to smallest pie piece. At 40 percent, the transportation sector is largest but includes all energy inputted to move both people and goods about, be it by car, truck, train, plane, boat or pipeline. Given that about half this amount goes into shuttling people, this means that personal transportation and running our homes together account for only about 35 percent of the energy we Americans use.

Read the rest of this entry »


Human Population: The Elephant in the Room

September 13, 2010

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD

Appeared in:

  • Santa Monica Daily Press, as Overpopulation the elephant in the room, 21 Sept 2010
  • E-Magazine’s Our Planet Weekly, as Pretending It’s Not People, 17 Sept 2010
  • Surf City Voice, 12 Sept 2010

Human population is the unspoken elephant in the room driving environmental crises

It is hard to come up with a looming environmental problem not ultimately rooted in human population expansion, be it a local issue like traffic congestion, litter and air & drinking water pollution or more global concerns like ocean fish depletion, deforestation, species extinction and global climate change.

We humans currently number 6.9 billion and continue to swell the planet by nearly 80 million more each year.  Almost half of us are under the age of 25, and, if present trends continue, we will double in number before 2060.

The United States does not earn a pass when it comes to population pressures on the environment, in part because our per capita resource consumption and waste production dwarf that of much of the rest of the world.  Furthermore, the Central Intelligence Agency tracks birth rates, and although the current U. S. birth rate (13.8 births per 1000 people per year) is roughly one-third that of several African countries, 69 other countries have lower birth rates.

The U.S. population has continued to rise by roughly three million each year over the last two decades with the latest total estimate topping 307 million.  By the end of this century, there could well be 570 million of us, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Given these harrowing projections and the monumental environmental dilemmas we face already, you would think that candidly stated strategies to stabilize the population, at home and abroad, would be a priority at every level of government.  Not so.

Read the rest of this entry »


Surf City Earns Energy ‘Smarter City’ Status

August 9, 2010

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

  • Appeared 9 Aug 2010 in Surf City Voice.

Huntington Beach is recognized by National Resources Defense Council for energy efficiency

Residents of Huntington Beach (HB) can take pride in being the only Orange County city that landed a spot this year on a list of 22 ‘Smarter Cities’ nationwide being recognized by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for setting good examples for the rest of nation in the areas of green power, energy efficiency and conservation.

The announcement came at the end of July, and Long Beach is the only other city in southern California earning this distinction. The NRDC extended initial consideration to all 655 U.S. municipalities with populations of at least 50,000.

HB and other Orange County cities made an initial cut because the county’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, as measured for 2002 by a North American monitoring program called Project Vulcan, averaged 1.8 tons per capita which met the qualifying per capita cut off of less than 2.5 tons. That HB alone made the final list reflects both the city’s record in improving the energy efficiency of its city facilities and its community outreach efforts to empower residents to save energy and money.

Read the rest of this entry »


No Such Thing as a Green Lawn

December 10, 2009
ciStockphoto.com/dbuffon

©iStockphoto.com/dbuffoon

by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD.
Appeared in:
  • El Cuervo de Orange, Feb 14, 2012
  • Vall-E-Vents, May 2010.
  • E-Magazine’s ‘Our Planet Weekly,’  April 8, 2010.
  • Fullerton Observer, early March, 2010, p. 17.
  • Orange Coast Voice, Dec. 7, 2009.

Which consumes more fossil fuels, lawn maintenance with gas-powered tools or lawn watering? For residents of Southern California, the correct answer is watering because of the energy it takes to transport water to the region.

Southern California (SoCal) is a semi-arid desert. Rainfall averages only 15 inches per year, for example, in the Los Angeles area.  Local water sources have fallen far short of meeting the region’s water needs for more than a century.

With 2/3 of the state’s rainfall in Northern California and 2/3 of the water demand in SoCal, the State deals with this imbalance by pumping in half of SoCal’s water supply from sources hundreds of miles away, the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The Water-Electricity Relationship

Piping water long distances is costly in terms of electricity, especially water imported from the Delta which has to be pumped uphill 2,000 ft to get over the Tehachapi Mountains.

In a first ever analysis of the energy embedded in bringing potable water to residential faucets and hoses in SoCal, a 2005 Calif Energy Commission analysis calculated 11,111 kWh/MG  (kilowatt hours per million gallons), three times costlier than in Northern California. Most of the electricity is for water transportation, much less for water treatment and maintaining water pressure. Every 100 gallons of imported water eats up enough electricity to keep a 100 W bulb lit for 11 hours.

Read the rest of this entry »


Catch Green Surf Wave

February 18, 2009
Surfing might seem like an earth-friendly sport, but a closer look reveals that the environmental impact may be more than you realize. Photo c1967 at Old Man’s Beach, San Clemente, California.Surfing might seem like an earth-friendly sport, but a closer look reveals that the environmental impact may be more than you realize. Photo c1967 at Old Man’s Beach, San Clemente, California.

Surfing might seem like an earth-friendly sport, but a closer look reveals that the environmental impact may be more than you realize. Photo c1967 at Old Man’s Beach, San Clemente, California.

Appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice, Dec. 18, 2009
  • Santa Monica Daily Press, May 15, 2009
  • Orange Coast Voice blog, April 24, 2009

A Wave of Green Hits Surfing Industry
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

At first glance, surfing might seem like an inherently earth-friendly sport. Surfers paddle out and catch waves by sheer force of will and muscle. No need for fossil fuel-burning speed boats to get around. And, surfers have a reputation for caring about ocean pollution.

But a closer look reveals that, like most human activities, the environmental impact is far from nil and, consequently, there’s a nascent movement within the surfing industry to clean up it its act.

The Essentials
The bare necessities of surfing are surfboard, wetsuit, good waves and wheels to and fro. The waves are courtesy of Mother Nature, but the choices surfers make to otherwise outfit themselves determine the toll on the environment.

Read the rest of this entry »


Ecology of Your Cell Phone

January 8, 2009

Appeared in:

  • OurPlanet (E-Magazine’s weekly newsletter) as Cell Phone EcologyJan. 5, 2010
  • Santa Monica Daily Press as The Ecology of Cell Phones, Aug. 31, 2009
  • Southern Sierran, May 2009
  • Vall-E-Vents, newsletter for Sierra Club San Fernando Valley, May 2009.

The Ecology of Loving and Leaving Your Cell Phone
Sarah S. Mosko Ph.D.

cellphone

Given all the environmental costs of cell phones, certainly the most eco-friendly cell is the one you already own.

It’s not much of a stretch to liken America’s relationship with cells phones to a once sizzling romance that ends in good bye.

Fated love affairs typically begin with blind infatuation and fiery passion before reality sets in, cooling the embers enough to allow more guarded, sometimes less attractive aspects of the self to surface. Interest wanes until the love object is abandoned or replaced by an alluring new one.

Americans relate to cell phones in much the same way. An old phone, with once novel features that drew fascination, is discarded with hardly a thought when an updated model makes it seem obsolete. That consumers replace cell phones about every two years – with Californians purchasing in a single year nearly one new cell for every two state residents – makes this analogy seem less silly.

Read the rest of this entry »


Schwarzenegger’s Scorecard on the Environment

December 17, 2008

Appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice newspaper as Gov. Schwarzenegger earns mixed reviews,  Jan. 2009, p. 3.
  • Vall-E-Vents, newsletter for Sierra Club San Fernando Valley, as Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Latest Scorecard on the Environment?, March 2009.

Schwarzenegger’s Latest Scorecard on the Environment?
Mixed as usual

by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Governor Schwarzenegger

Gov. Schwarzenegger hosted a summit on global climate in November, 2008 in Los Angeles.

Throughout his tenure as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has earned mixed reviews from the environmental community for his positions on environmental issues. Last September, during the final throes of the 2007-2008 legislative session, reactions again ranged from standing ovations for his signature on groundbreaking new protections against hazardous chemicals to cries of foul play for the veto of legislation to clean up polluted air in the state’s port cities.

The following highlights the fate of several bills impacting California’s environment as they passed through the governor’s desk in the eleventh hour.

Toxic Chemicals
Roughly 100,000 chemicals are in use today, most without any environmental or human safety testing under antiquated federal regulation dating back three decades.

Read the rest of this entry »


Disney’s Eco-Friendly Policies

November 24, 2008

Appeared in:

  • Southern Sierran, January 2009.
  • An edited version of this post appeared in the Orange Coast Voice newspaper, December 2008, page 11.

Disneyland Boasts Eco-Friendly Policies
But could it be doing more?

by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Walt Disney designed Disneyland Resort for enchantment, an oasis free of cares where everything wondrous seems possible. Worries over the park’s environmental impact were probably not at the forefront of his mind, although he is often quoted for voicing appreciation that natural resources are not inexhaustible and that nature must be preserved for future generations.

But the environment is in a lot more trouble today than it was when Disneyland opened in 1955, so it’s fair to ask, “How green is the Happiest Place on Earth today?”

Disneyland is really akin to a small city, employing 20,000 employees and passing double that many guests through the turnstiles daily. Entertaining, feeding and managing the waste of a mob that size in an environmentally responsible fashion is no easy task.

Evironmentality is the Disney trademark program that aims to keep Walt Disney’s conservation legacy alive through diverse environmental policies, some visible to parkgoers. For example, the lagoon scenes in the recently opened Nemo Submarine Voyage were colored using crushed glass from discarded bottles, and the subs are propelled by an innovative zero-emission magnetic coil system, eliminating the need for hundreds of thousand of gallons of diesel fuel each year.

Read the rest of this entry »


Stay Married to be Green

October 1, 2008

Appeared in Orange Coast Voice, October 2008, page 11

Stay married to save the planet

According to a recent investigation, divorce creates pretty hefty costs to the environment. Courtesy Orange Coast Voice

Stay Married to Stay Green
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

If you are looking for reasons to patch up a rocky marriage, here is one you have probably overlooked – do it for the planet! While it is common knowledge that divorce can be costly to the pocketbook, a recent investigation exposes pretty hefty costs to the environment too.

Divorce is on the rise in the United States as evidenced by an increase in divorced households (households with divorced heads) from 5% to 15% of total households between 1970 and 2000. The proportion of married households (with married heads) sank from 69% to 53% over this same interval.

One spouse typically moves out during a divorce. Michigan State University researchers Eunice Yu and Jianaguo Liu hypothesized that this splitting of families should translate into more but smaller households with loss of resource use efficiency on a per person basis. Their predictions were in fact borne out by tapping into the largest publicly available census based on individual U.S. households – the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series-USA.

Read the rest of this entry »


Zero Waste

June 1, 2008

Appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice, June 2008, page 15
  • Southern Sierran, June 2009 as ‘Thinking Outside the Dump: Zero Waste’
  • Fullerton Observer, Oct. 2009, page 11, as ‘Zero Waste: Thinking Outside the Dump’

Zero Waste!
Let’s Get Out of This Dump

by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D .

We are a throw-away society

Our throw-away habits are making a dump out of our world.

A fond memory from my childhood is of visiting the neighborhood “dump” with my dad to drop off whatever refuse, like old tires, we could not burn in our backyard incinerator.

Nowadays, the local dump has been supplanted by centralized landfills, and major restrictions have been placed on backyard incineration. Our waste stream has been transformed also since the introduction of petroleum-based plastics, single-use disposables, and packaging excess. Too, products once designed for durability and repair have been replaced with flimsier versions intended to be tossed and replaced.

In short, we have become a throw away society. Read the rest of this entry »


Polystyrene Ban Wagon

February 1, 2008

Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper February 2008, page 11

The Polystyrene Ban Wagon
Laguna Beach will require biodegradable eating utensils
by Sarah S. Mosko Ph.D.

polystyrene

Foam cups and other food containers made from polystyrene are outlawed in Laguna, a first in Orange County.

“To-go” orders in Laguna Beach soon will have a new look because of a city ordinance passed last month prohibiting restaurants from using any polystyrene (PS) for food service cups and containers . . . an Orange County first.

Polystyrene (PS) is most recognizable in its foamed form (expanded polystyrene or EPS) as hot cups, food clamshells or packaging materials, although non-expanded PS is also made into clear plastic food containers. Restaurants have until July to come up with replacements, e.g. paperboard or a plastic that is biodegradable or easier to recycle.

The Laguna Beach regulation follows on the heels of similar bans enacted recently in Santa Monica, Calabasas, and Malibu and applies to private food vendors as well as city-sponsored events and Read the rest of this entry »


Is Your Coffee Green?

January 1, 2008

Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper January 2008, page 11.

Is Your Coffee Green?
How to find your eco-responsible coffee shop

by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Not the winner: Starbucks does not report percentage of coffee grown without synthetic chemicals.

Not the winner: Starbucks does not report percentage of coffee grown without synthetic chemicals.

It takes 12 coffee trees to support a 2-cup-a-day coffee habit, according to the Sightline Institute, a non-profit research center in Seattle. And not all coffee is created equal from an environmental standpoint.

People who frequent specialty coffee stores seek a perfect brew served up in a connoisseur’s ambiance. If you are one of them, but also care how eco-friendly your cup of java is, you might want to know how different establishments stack up environmentally. A little background on how coffee is grown and labeled is essential.

Coffee Talk: The dizzying selection that entices the gourmet coffee drinker is every bit linked to the varying conditions under which coffee is cultivated. Read the rest of this entry »


Green Reaper

November 1, 2007

Appeared in Orange County Voice as The Green Reaper: How to Die Ecologically, November 2007, page 11.

Green Endings – A Better Way to Go
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

The Green Burial Council has contacts in many states who are willing to accommodate green burial

The Green Burial Council has contacts in many states who are willing to accommodate green burial.

There’s one topic that people like to think about even less than what they owe in taxes or the most humiliating thing they have ever done — funerals and burials, especially their own.

We avoid it not just because it brings up the really big questions (Why are we here? Is there life after death?), but also because we feel no connection to the whole mortuary scene — the cold sterile slab, the smelly embalming fluids, the dreary funeral parlor. These facets of modern burials say nothing about us, or the values we hold.

But there’s a movement afoot to offer an alternative that is less impersonal and, for many people, more meaningfully connected to the life that was lived. It is called green burials.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Beef About Beef

June 1, 2007

Appeared in:

  • San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter in two parts in July and September 2008.
  • Southern Sierran in August 2007.
  • Orange Coast Voice newspaper as It’s No Bull, Beef production creates global warming in June 2007, page 2.

A Beef About Beef
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

The connection between our meal choices and global warming might be another "inconvenient truth" that is particularly hard to swallow. Illustration by Willis Simms.

The connection between our meal choices and global warming might be another “inconvenient truth” that is particularly hard to swallow. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Global warming is on the tip of many tongues these days, but so are hamburgers, pork chops, and fried chicken. As hybrid car sales are up and SUV sales on the decline, it seems Americans might be waking up to the reality that each of us bears some responsibility for climate change through our everyday consumer choices. John Robbins, the once heir-apparent of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream company, has authored bestsellers, such as The Food Revolution, detailing the detrimental environmental impacts of a meat-based diet. He and other experts make a strong case that food choices rank right up there with what car you drive in determining your personal contribution to global warming. A quick look inside the hamburger bun easily makes the point.

Massive Fossil Fuels Consumed to Produce Beef
Most U.S. beef comes from cows raised on factory farms where hordes of animals are crowded onto concrete lots and fed grains, mostly corn. The grains are also grown using industrial farming methods that rely heavily on application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides manufactured from Read the rest of this entry »


Distress Calls From Ocean

January 1, 2007

Appeared in:

  • Vall-E-Vents, suppl. to Southern Sierran, March 2010.
  • Sierra Club – San Fernando Valley chapter newsletter January 2008.
  • Orange Coast Voice newspaper as The Ocean Cries Out: Under attack on all fronts, March 2007, page 8.
  • Southern Sierran newspaper January 2007.
oceanturtle

Illustration by Willis Simms.

Distress Calls from the Ocean
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it is attached to the rest of the world.
— John Muir

Whether you are a career fisherman, weekend angler, surfer, snorkeler, skinny dipper, fish dinner connoisseur, or simply a never-gets-wet admirer of the ocean’s majesty, there’s nothing but bad news coming from recent assessments of the ocean’s health.

The scope and severity of the ills that experts report have made commonplace the phrase “collapse” in reference to the global loss of sea life and ecosystems. The assaults that appear responsible all stem from human activities, including over-fishing,  deforestation, overdevelopment of coastlines, overuse of pesticides  and fertilizers, oil spills, and general use of the ocean as a dumping ground for sewage, industrial chemicals and other human wastes. What follows is a brief look at some of the tragic changes scientists are reporting.1-3 Read the rest of this entry »


SFO Nixes Toxins

November 1, 2006

Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter, Nov-Dec, 2006

San Francisco Nixes Plastic Toxins
(#9 of the Plastic Plagues Series)
by Sarah Mosko, Ph.D.

The City of San Francisco was first to nix some toxic plastics. Photo courtesy of my.sfgov.org

The City of San Francisco was first to nix some toxic plastics. Photo courtesy of my.sfgov.org

As of Dec. 2006, plastic toys and childcare products containing either of two chemicals known to disrupt sex hormones will no longer be manufactured, distributed or sold in San Francisco.

One targeted substance is bisphenol-A, the building block of polycarbonate plastics (#7) used to make some baby bottles, teethers and toys. It is an estrogen mimic that has been linked to miscarriage, birth defects, diabetes and prostate cancer. Leaching of bisphenol-A from polycarbonate bottles or containers into the contents has been documented.

Also banned are several plasticizers called phthalates added to PVC (#3, polyvinyl chloride) plastic products to make them soft and squishy. Many children’s toys and teethers contain phthalates that can migrate out since they’re not chemically bonded to the plastic polymer. Phthalates interfere with testosterone during fetal life, and exposure has been linked to abnormal reproductive organ development, infertility, premature breast development, shortened pregnancy, and asthma. Read the rest of this entry »


Plastics Addiction

July 1, 2006

Appeared in:

  • Southern Sierran, July 2006
  • SFV Sierra Club Chapter newsletter, July 2006

Breaking Our Addiction to Plastic
(#8 of the Plastic Plague series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

There goes the neighborhood!  Illustration by Willis Simms

There goes the neighborhood! Illustration by Willis Simms

In the Jan. 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush finally admitted that “America is addicted to oil.” He pointed out the need to improve energy and fuel efficiency and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but said nothing about how our mindless consumption of petroleum-based plastics is symptomatic of this national malady.

However, just a few facts suffice to illuminate the seriousness of our unhealthy relationship to plastics.

Since the mid 20th century start of the plastics explosion, consumption of plastics has skyrocketed to the point that the weight of plastics produced in a year in our country is twice the weight of the entire US population.1 And as is true for any addiction, we live in denial about our problem…denial that plastics are non-biodegradable and denial of the threats they pose to the environment and human health (see previous articles in this series for details).

Our denial is so complete that we’ve allowed plastic debris to accumulate to frightening levels in our oceans – some parts of the Pacific have 6 times more plastic than zooplankton.2 We’ve created a society where just about everything is made out of plastic without taking responsibility for the impact on our own health and the health of the planet. Read the rest of this entry »


Can Bioplastics Save Us?

March 1, 2006

 

Appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice, February 2007, page 5.
  • Sierra Club – Mt. Baldy Group, Angeles Chapter newsletter, Jan-Feb 2007, page 4
  • Sierra Club – San Fernando Valley chapter newsletter March 2006.

Can Bioplastics Save Us?
(#7 of the Plastic Plague series)
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Most bioplastics on the market require industry composting, so the products just end up in the landfill.

Most bioplastics on the market require industry composting, so the products just end up in the landfill.

Bioplastics. They gotta be better than petroleum plastics, right? A short list of problems linked to petroleum plastics includes oil spills, release of toxins during synthesis, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals during routine use, threats to wildlife from ingestion or entanglement, environmental pollution during disposal, and maybe even a basis for wars as global petroleum supplies dwindle. Furthermore, petroleum plastics do not biodegrade, creating a ballooning litter problem on land and sea as global plastics production has risen to about 250 billion pounds annually.

But will conversion to a plant-based substitute really solve everything? Considering a few key questions should help us ferret out some of the critical issues that would need to be addressed before we can give bioplastics a thumbs up or down.

Is bioplastic technology ready?
Even though you won’t find them on major supermarket shelves, some forward-looking companies have figured out how to make disposable plastic items (such as cups, bowls, plates, clamshells, Read the rest of this entry »


Plastics Damaging to Health

February 1, 2006

Appeared in Southern Sierran, February 2006

Plastics Damaging to Health: fetuses and children particularly at risk
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

The Environmental Working Group reports that toxic fire retardants (PBDEs) are found in mother's milk.

The Environmental Working Group reports that toxic fire retardants (PBDEs) are found in mother's milk.

Plastics can pose threats to human health at all stages in our life cycles, with specific risks varying with the type of plastic.

In the process of converting petroleum or natural gas into plastic, toxic chemicals can be released into the air and water supply. For example, vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. A chemical called perfluorooctanaote (PFOA) used in the production of plastic-coated non-stick cookware is also carcinogenic.

An assortment of “additives” is often needed to lend particular characteristics to a product. Many items, like computer casings and hair dryers, require flame retardants because plastics are highly flammable. Read the rest of this entry »


Unhealthy Plastic Habit?

January 1, 2006

Appeared in:

  • Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, Jan-Feb., 2006.

Plastics – an Unhealthy Habit?
(#6 of the Plastic Plague Series)
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

The endocrine disruptor bisphenol A is used in the synthesis of some wildly popular polycarbonate water bottles. Photo from ourstolenfuture.org

The endocrine disruptor bisphenol A is used in the synthesis of some wildly popular polycarbonate water bottles. Photo from ourstolenfuture.org

Plastics are lightweight, flexible, durable and can be molded into just about anything. They fill our toy chests, refrigerators, medicine cabinets and desk tops. Since the explosion of consumer plastics in the 1950s, we have come to rely on them to get us through our busy lives. But, there is a dark side to plastics as well, and it has to do with our health.

Plastics can pose threats to human health at all stages in their life cycle, with specific risks varying with the type of plastic.

During synthesis from petroleum or natural gas, toxic chemicals are used which can be released into the air and water supply.  For example, vinyl chloride (a known carcinogen) is used to make polyvinyl chloride or PVC plastics, and a chemical called perfluorooctanaote (PFOA) used in the production of plastic-coated non-stick cookware is also carcinogenic. Furthermore, an assortment of “additives” are often needed to lend particular characteristics to a product.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bottled Water Safer?

November 1, 2005

Appeared in

  • Orange Coast Voice as Is Your Bottled Water Safer?, May 2007, page 5.
  • Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, Nov-Dec., 2005.

Is Bottled Water Really Safer? Billions of Plastic Bottles Harm the Environment
(#4 of the Plastic Plague Series)

by Sarah S. Mosko and Stuart Moody (Green Sangha)

The FDA regulates bottled water as a food product, whereas tap water is EPA-regulated. Surprisingly perhaps, FDA rules are not necessarily stricter.

The FDA regulates bottled water as a food product, whereas tap water is EPA-regulated. Surprisingly perhaps, FDA rules are not necessarily stricter.

Bottled water has become a symbol of our culture, whether it is the 5-gallon jug at the office or the single-serve bottles we lug around every time we leave the house. We have been led to believe that bottled water is better for us than tap water, but is it? And, what impact are all those plastic bottles having on the planet?

Is bottled water really safer?

The FDA regulates bottled water as a food product, whereas tap water is EPA-regulated. Surprisingly perhaps, FDA rules are not necessarily stricter. For example, the FDA does not prohibit low levels of fecal bacteria in water while the EPA does. Read the rest of this entry »


Plastics in the Food Chain

September 1, 2005

Appeared in Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernando Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, Sept., 2005.

Plastics in the Food Chain
(#3 of the Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Japanese researchers suggest that plastic debris is a transporter of toxic chemicals into the marine food chain. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Japanese researchers suggest that plastic debris is a transporter of toxic chemicals into the marine food chain. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Plastics are petroleum products that never biodegrade…they just break up into smaller and smaller fragments of plastic.

Worldwide plastics production has grown to over 150 million tons/year, and lots of it finds its way into our oceans. Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, Calif. has trawled the surface waters of the N. Pacific central gyre, a Texas-sized whirlpool of ocean debris sometimes referred to as the Pacific Garbage Patch. He compared the weight of plastic fragments to that of zooplanktons. Zooplanktons are tiny animal planktons at the bottom of the aquatic food chain and a prime food source for a myriad of sea creatures.

Quite alarmingly, Captain Moore found that plastics outweighed zooplanktons by a factor of 6-to-1.1 Even off the Southern California coastline, plastics were found to outweigh zooplanktons 2.5 to 1.2 Since fish, turtles, jellies, seabirds and other sea creatures are not equipped to distinguish plastics from real food, plastics have become a routine part of the marine food chain. Microscopic bits of plastic are even being incorporated into plankton,3 showing that plastics have entered the very bottom of our food chain.

Adding to the alarm are the findings of Japanese researchers suggesting that plastic debris is a transporter of toxic chemicals into the marine food chain. Because plastics are petroleum-based, they are oily and so attract oily toxins like PCBs and DDE (PCBs are a family of toxic, persistent chemicals previously used in electrical equipment, and DDE is a breakdown product of the now banned pesticide DDT). The study focused on plastic resin pellets, the pearl-sized materials that are melted down to form plastic products. The pellets were found to accumulate PCBs and DDE at levels up to one million times their concentrations in the surrounding seawater.

Oily toxins are stored generally in fatty tissues and consequently get concentrated as they are passed up the food chain (plankton are eaten by jellyfish, salmon eat the jellyfish, you serve salmon for dinner). The potential threat to humans eating at the top of the food chain is obvious. We don’t know yet how big a role plastic ocean debris plays in the elevated levels of PCBs, DDE and other toxins now commonly measured in human tissues. The studies needed to assess this simply have not been done. However, two things are abundantly clear – our oceans are turning into cesspools of plastic trash because of human negligence, and we will eventually eat everything we throw into the sea. We don’t need new studies to tell us this!

1Moore et al.Marine Poll. Bull., 42, 2001.
2Moore et al. Marine Poll. Bull., 44, 2002.
3Thompson et al. Science 304, 2004.
4Mato et al. Environ. Sci. Bull. 35, 2001.

To participate in a California-based statewide plastics reduction campaign, contact Earth Resource Foundation or call (949) 645-5163.


Plastic Plague

May 1, 2005

Versions of this article appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice, December 2006, page 9.
  • San Mateo County Renews, Spring 2006.
  • Southern Sierran, August 2005.
  • Sierra Club – San Fernando Valley chapter newsletter, May 2005.

The Plastic Plague: From a “fix it” to a “throw away” society
(#1 of the Plastic Plague series)
by Sarah S. Mosko Ph.D.

It’s getting harder and harder to find things that aren’t made of plastic. You can even get potato chips now in a plastic bottle to go with that plastic bottle of water. We have been made to think that plastics are indispensable, even good for us. Since WWII we have made a complete about-face from a “fix it and make it do” to a “use it once and toss it” society, with plastics playing a starring role.

The percentage of plastic that is recycled is low compared to the amount that is generated.

The percentage of plastic that is recycled is low compared to the amount that is generated.

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