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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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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Can’t Spare a Dime?

October 9, 2010

Buddy, Can’t Spare a Dime For The Environment?
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared in:

  • Fullerton Observer, Mid Nov 2010, p. 20
  • Santa Monica Daily Press, 4 Nov 2010
  • E-Magazine’s Our Planet Weekly, as ‘The Environmental Spending Gap, 12 Oct 2010
  • Surf City Voice, 8 Oct 2010

How much are you willing to pay for access to clean air and drinking water?

What’s a fair price to keep toxic chemicals out of the food supply, to insure the future of ocean and freshwater fish stocks, to keep public parks open, and to stem the melting of the polar ice caps so our coastal cities remain above sea level and polar bears won’t go extinct?

Questions of this sort prompted me to investigate how much the federal government and my home state of California (and ultimately we taxpayers) actually spend on environmental protection. Turns out neither comes close to one thin dime on the dollar.

Federal outlay for environmental protection is one percent
Federal environmental spending, like defense spending, comes under discretionary spending which in 2009 amounted to $1.2 trillion or about one-third of the total $3.5 trillion federal outlay. Mandatory spending makes up the remaining two-thirds of the federal budget (nearly $2.3 trillion) and goes to hefty programs like Medicare, Social Security and interest on the national debt.

Discretionary spending is divided into two broad categories, national defense and non-national defense, with defense spending eating up 53 percent of all discretionary dollars in 2009. The government keeps tabs on federal environmental spending in a category called natural resources and environment (NRE) which totaled $35 billion or just 2.8 percent of discretionary spending and a meager one percent of total federal spending.

What this means in dollars and cents spent on behalf of each person in the country is easy to compute using the U.S. Census Bureau estimate that the country’s population in 2009 slightly exceeded 307 million: Per capita federal spending for NRE was just $114.49, dwarfed by the $2,139.24 spent for every man, woman and child on national defense.

That’s just 31 cents per day spent on my (or your) behalf to preserve the environment versus $5.86 spent daily in one’s name for national defense.

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Low-Carbon Footprint Camping

July 23, 2010

 Sun recharges your favorite e-gadgets

by  Sarah (Steve) Mosko

Appeared in:

  • E-Magazine Blog as “Camping with Gadgets,” 13 Aug 2012
  • Vall-E-Vents Sierra Club Newsletter, June 2011
  • Fullerton Observer, Aug 2010, p. 10
  • Surf City Voice, 21 July 2010

Recharge solar lanterns and small electronics with solar rechargers

Does the prospect of spending a weekend away from your favorite e-gadgets (cell phone, laptop, iPod or PDA) stir up separation anxiety?  Around our house we’ve dubbed this e-angst, and it can kill enthusiasm for an otherwise welcome family camping vacation.

For teens or adults similarly infected with e-angst, a diversity of devices are on the market which let you bring your e-gadgets along with you camping and also trim your carbon footprint because they utilize only sunshine for power.

Solar chargers
An assortment of portable solar-powered chargers is available that adapt to virtually any handheld electronic appliance including digital cameras and GPS units.  Most rely on photovoltaic silicon cell technology akin to what is used on rooftop solar panels.  Many are small enough to fit in a back pocket or certainly a glove box so can travel with you virtually anywhere.  The cost is as little as $15 on up to $150 depending on the capacity.  Because rechargeable batteries are incorporated, gadgets can be recharged even after the sun goes down.  Small electronics generally charge in 2-4 hours.

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Plants Purify Indoor Air

August 28, 2009

This is an updated version of an earlier article titled Potted Plants Ease Indoor Air Pollution.

Top Ten Potted Plants for Eliminating Indoor Air Pollution
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD.

Appeared in:

  • E-Magazine as Plants for Purification, Jan. 27, 2010
  • Vall-E-Vents, suppl. to Southern Sierran, January, 2010.
  • Orange Coast Voice, Dec. 16, 2009
  • Fullerton Obsrver, December 2009, page 9

Peace Lily ranks in the top 10. Photo courtesy of Noodle snacks.

Eliminating indoor air pollution can be as simple as dotting your house or office with potted plants, according to research stretching back as far as the space program of the 1980s.

It’s a widely held misconception that staying indoors avoids exposure to air pollutants. Indoor air quality, in fact, is usually worse because contaminants that emanate from a vast assortment of consumer products add to the pollution that drifts in from the outside.

Given that urban dwellers pass 90% of their time inside, any strategy to improve indoor air quality is of widespread interest, especially one as appealing and environmentally sustainable as adding potted plants to the décor.

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Suburban Habitat Renewal

July 1, 2009

Appeared in:

Suburban Habitat Restoration: One Backyard at a Time
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Yards certified through the National Wildlife Federation can post this sign.

Yards certified through the National Wildlife Federation can post this sign.

Whether you fret over dwindling rainforests or attribute disappearance of neighborhood cats to displaced coyotes, most of us recognize loss of wildlife habitats as a growing environmental concern.

As an alternative to hand-wringing, the National Wildlife Federation offers ordinary citizens the means to take action by establishing a Certified Wildlife Habitat in their own backyard. It’s not only enjoyable but very easy. I know because I did it in a matter of weeks despite starting out a gardening illiterate unable to name one in ten plants in my own yard.

Here’s how the program works. A yard has to qualify in all five areas outlined below, but each offers a wide range of options and only one to three is required per category. Then there’s a two-page checklist to fill out – works on the honor system – and a $15 processing fee. That’s it.

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That New Car Smell

July 1, 2009

Appeared in

  • San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter, May-June, 2006 & July 2009

So You Like that “New Car Smell?” Think again.
(#10 of the Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

toxicatanyspeedYour car’s interior is a major source of exposure to two classes of toxic chemicals, according to a first-of-its-kind report from the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Titled Toxic At Any Speed, the study measured levels of PBDEs (flame retardants) and phthalates (used to soften plastics) in both interior car dust and windshield film samples from cars made by 11 leading auto manufacturers.

These chemicals exude from seat covers, instrument panels, floor coverings and other plastic parts. Studies in lab animals have linked exposure to a variety of health effects, Read the rest of this entry »