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 »


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 »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


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 »


Better Food Choices

August 1, 2008

Appeared in:

  • Orange Coast Voice blog, August 16, 2008
  • Orange Coast Voice newspaper, August 2008

Better Food Choices Get Better Results in Global Warming Battle than Food Miles Reduction
By Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

California Certified Farmers' Markets are "the real thing," places where genuine California farmers sell their fresh-picked crops directly to the public in over 500 communities throughout the state.

California Certified Farmers' Markets let genuine California farmers sell their fresh-picked crops directly to the public in over 500 communities throughout the state.

“Buying local” has become a mantra of many committed to shrinking their personal climate footprint by limiting the miles their food travels from producer to plate. The increasing globalization of food supplies has served to fan this trend.

However, a new study finds that what you eat has a far greater impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than where that food was produced. What’s more, saying no to red meat and dairy products even one day a week matters more than buying local all week long.

Number crunchers Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews at Carnegie Mellon University drew on U.S. government statistics from 1997 to expose the entire life-cycle GHG emissions associated with the diet of the average American household.

Emissions fell into one of four categories, starting with upstream supply chain transportation wherein equipment and supplies are supplied to food producers. Then comes the food production phase, followed by final delivery transportation from point of production to retailer. The latter is synonymous with so-called food-miles that are the focus of advocates of buying local. The fourth source of emissions occurs during wholesaling and retailing and includes store heating and air-conditioning and food refrigeration.

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 »


Praise Potted Plants

May 1, 2008

This article updated August 2009
Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper May 2008, page 11.

Potted Plants Ease Indoor Air Pollution
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Australian researchers heeded by Margaret Burchett at the University of Technology have revealed fascinating twists on the potted plant story.

Australian researchers heeded by Margaret Burchett at the University of Technology have revealed fascinating twists on the potted plant story. Photo courtesy Orange County Voice.

It is a widespread misconception that staying indoors avoids exposure to air pollutants.

Indoor air quality, in fact, is generally worse because contaminants that arise 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, strategies to improve indoor air quality are of interest to nearly everyone.

Indoor Air Chemistry
The chief forms of pollutants generated indoors are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that off-gas primarily from common petroleum-based products. They are impossible to avoid since the sources are nearly endless: furniture, carpeting, paints, varnishes, paint strippers, synthetic building materials, air fresheners, cleaning solutions, toilet bowl deodorizers, personal care products, tobacco smoke, pesticides, and solvents in inks and adhesives.

The number of VOCs is also long – the U.S. EPA indicated that more than 900 had been identified in indoor air in a 1989 Report of Congress. While some pose no known danger to health, others are Read the rest of this entry »


Toxic Flame Retardants

April 1, 2008

Appeared in

  • Southern Sierran as Firefighters Back Ban on Flame RetardantsJuly 2008, page 2
  • Orange Coast Voice as Toxic Flame Retardants: Ubiquitious but toxic BFRs are everywhere, even the Artic, April 2008, page 11


Firefighters Back Banning Controversial Flame Retardant

Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

BFRs are so ubiquitous that they are found in remote areas of the Artic and throughout the food chain, from zooplankton to dolphins and polar bears.

BFRs are so ubiquitous that they are found in remote areas of the Artic and throughout the food chain, from zooplankton to dolphins and polar bears.

Your TV, mattress, couch and computer could be sources of man-made toxic chemicals building up in human tissues, including breast milk. Sounds crazy, but it’s not.

Many consumer products are imbued with a class of flame retardants considered by many to be bad news since they accumulate in fatty tissues, resist breakdown in the environment, and disrupt normal development in lab animals. They are called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or just brominated flame retardants (BFRs).

Introduced in the 1970’s, BFRs have become commonplace in upholstery foam, textiles and electronics because synthetic materials, like petroleum-based plastics, are generally more flammable. BFRs impede the spread of fire bycreating a layer of bromine gas around a heated product, keeping oxygen at bay. They comprise up to 30% of an item’s weight and migrate out over time into air, dust, and soil. 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 »


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 »


Driving on Sunshine

April 1, 2007

Appeared in:

Driving on Sunshine
Ethanol: Starve While You Drive
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

From President Bush on down, it seems everyone is talking up “biofuels”, especially corn-grain ethanol and soy-diesel, as the panacea to the country’s energy woes . . . global warming, air pollution, increasing prices at the pump and dependence on foreign oil.

Automakers are promoting flex-fuel cars that run on either E85, a gasoline mixture that is 85% ethanol, or straight gasoline. Agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are trumpeting their ethanol, 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 »


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 »


Thirsty Californians

November 1, 2005

Appeared in

  • Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, Nov-Dec., 2005.

Thirsty Californians Trash the State
(#5 Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

We all need to kick the bottled water habit and see it for the environmental hazard that it really is. Illustration by Willis Simms.

We all need to kick the bottled water habit and see it for the environmental hazard that it really is. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Is bottled water earth-friendly?

Single-serve bottled water comes in #1 PETE (or PET) plastic bottles, whereas the 1-gallon containers are #2 HDPE plastic. The five-gallon jugs at the office are yet a different plastic, #7 polycarbonate. All three are made from petroleum or natural gas, do not biodegrade, and are thought to last at least a hundred years in the environment. Plastic bottles harm the environment throughout their life cycle.

We all know that petroleum/ natural gas extraction is environmentally costly. Also, toxic chemicals are used or produced in the manufacture of plastic bottles. For example, Bisphenol-A (BPA), a building block of polycarbonate plastics, is known to mimic estrogen and cause reproductive abnormalities when lab animals are exposed as fetuses. Migration of BPA from bottles into water has been documented, and BPA has built up in the environment to the extent that elevated levels are measured in seafood as well as human tissues.

Californians’ thirst for bottled water has contributed heavily to an overall decline in beverage container recycling, down from 70% in 1990 to 55% in 2003. A paltry 16% of #1 PET water bottles 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.


Plastics For Dinner

July 1, 2005

Appeared in Vall-E-Vents, the San Fernanado Valley Sierra Club Newsletter, July 2005.

Plastics for Dinner
(#2 of the Plastics Plague series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.

Most litter eventually finds it way to the ocean. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Most litter eventually finds it way to the ocean. Illustration by Willis Simms.

Most litter eventually finds it way to the ocean. Plastics bags are swept in by winds, while heavier trash washes in via rainstorm run-off. Dumping at sea and cargo spills account for only 20% of trash in our oceans, with 80% from land-based sources.

Just about everything today is made from plastic it seems. Since plastics do not biodegrade, but rather break into smaller plastic fragments, our oceans are awash with plastic debris. Nearly 90% of ocean debris is in fact plastic. There are even areas of ocean where plastic fragments outweigh zooplankton by a factor of six to one. Unfortunately, sea creatures are not equipped to discriminate plastics from their normal diet. The consequences are devastating.

A plastic bag floating in water probably looks a lot like a jellyfish to a hungry sea turtle. Hard plastic fragments resemble krill, small shrimp-like crustaceans favored by many sea animals. Read the rest of this entry »