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 »


Green Hot Cups

November 1, 2007

Appeared in Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club newsletter, Nov-Dec, 2007

Also see All That Shines Is Not Gold

Hot Beverage Cups Go Green
(#12 of the Plastic Plague Series)
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

If your paper cup has a plastic lining, it will end up in the landfill.

If your paper cup has a plastic lining, it will end up in the landfill.

For the very first time, certain paper packaging products with a shiny resin lining are being produced that can be recycled or composted.

The obstacle to recycling and composting has been the petroleum-based polyethylene moisture barrier that lines hot coffee cups and many other paper food/drink packaging containers.  Since the polyethylene resin resists biodegradation, it fails to meet standards for compostability and is an unacceptable contaminant that precludes diversion to the paper recycling waste stream. (Click for related article).

A paper hot cup is the first in a series of novel resin-lined paper products dubbed “ecotainers” that are being rolled out in a joint effort by two companies, International Paper and DaniMer Scientific. The new cup lining is based 99% on the corn-derived resin called PLA (for polylactic acid) that has been tweaked chemically to produce a coating that sticks well to paper (PLA alone sticks poorly). Part of the good news is that petrochemicals do not contribute to the 1% of synthetic chemicals added to the PLA, according to DaniMer’s President. The hot cup not only meets international BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) standards for compostability, but is also “repulpable” so can even be recycled in the paper waste stream. Look for cups bearing the logo of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters who are the first to adopt the new technology.

A second fully biodegradable & compostable hot cup on the market has solved the polyethylene lining dilemma by eliminating the lining completely. Brought to us by World Centric, the cup is made from 100% bagasse, the sugarcane fiber left over once the sugarcane juice is extracted. The cup comes without a label and sports a less high-tech look and feel than theecotainer. Although it is soak proof, hot beverages do create some “perspiration” on the outside. However, some big environmental pluses might easily make up for these esthetic drawbacks. Bagasse is sometimes eliminated by open-air incineration after the sugarcane juice is extracted, so converting it into cups both makes more complete use of a natural resource and rids a source of air pollution. Plus, no trees are ever cut down!

Forward looking companies as described here will no doubt continue their quest for the perfect, environmentally friendly hot cup and make it available to retailers. Now it is up to us consumers to tell our favorite gourmet coffee stores that we want our cup of coffee “green” whether we drink it black or with cream!

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


Grabbing Some Rays

September 1, 2007
  • Appeared in Orange Coast Voice as Solar Energy Made Simple: How technology uses the sun’s power, September 2007, page 10.

Grabbing Some Rays or Solar Made Simple
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Installing solar panels on a little less than 30 million homes and businesses could power the entire nation.

Installing solar panels on a little less than 30 million homes and businesses could power the entire nation.

There is a wellspring of hope that 2007 is the tipping point in the fight against global warming.

This is the year that the hundreds of experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded, with near certainty, that global warming is for real. It is the year Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth turned “greenhouse gases” into an everyday household expression.

With the finger of blame pointing squarely at the reckless burning of fossil fuels, renewable energy has become the hottest of topics. Whereas renewables of every ilk will most likely fill important energy niches, solar energy dwarfs all others in ultimate potential because of the sheer abundance of sunlight.

Global energy consumption in the year 2004 averaged about 15 trillion watts (terawatts, TW), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface (120,000 TW) literally exceeds this global demand thousands of times over. In fact, 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 »


All That Shines Is Not Gold

March 1, 2007

Appeared in San Fernando Valley Sierra Club Chapter newsletter, Mar-Apr 2007

Related article: Paper Cups Go Green.

All That Shines Is Not Gold
(#11 of the Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

If your paper cup has a plastic lining, it will end up in the landfill.

If your paper cup has a plastic lining, it will end up in the landfill.

Did you ever notice the shiny lining on the inside of those paper cups designed for hot beverages . . the ones you get at your favorite specialty coffee store? Although the lining’s purpose is noble (prevents the liquid from seeping through the paper), its presence is the very reason those paper cups all end up in landfills.

Manufacturers tell me the lining is typically a polyethylene resin or some other petroleum-based emulsion. As such, it is a contaminant that prevents recycling as a paper item, and like petroleum-based plastics, it doesn’t biodegrade so is not appropriate for composting.

Such resins also coat milk cartons and many paper picnic products, thus preventing you from putting them in your curbside recycling bin or your backyard compost.

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 »