Monthly Archives: April 2011

Small changes make a big difference

Earth day

Happy Earth Day 2011! Every day should be Earth Day when you think about how important this planet is to our survival (I know, duh!), but it is really easy to take things for granted. Our beloved Planet Earth provides us with the resources we need to live, thrive and pursue happiness, but we do not always do our best to reciprocate it.

I was not sure what to write about for Earth Day, though there are certainly plenty of ways to help out, until last night. I got an extra boost this morning when I checked Twitter and saw the following tweet from @OpheliaRising “Special #EarthDay #FF @fridgefilters @PlasticfreeBeth. Small changes make a big difference!”. That was when it really hit me, small changes do make a really big difference.

I was speaking with a friend last night who is taking a class in environmental sociology and has to write a 15 page paper about a current environmental issue. I was eager to help and suggested she discuss plastic pollution and bottled water. I was ready to unload all the information I have gathered on the subject, but was stopped short by her response. She told me that it was not finding a topic that was hard, but that she did not really care. “I am not an environmentalist” she told me, “the problem is too big and I am not going to make a difference”.

I wish I could tell you that I pulled out my best arguments and convinced her that she should care and explained how she could make a difference, but I only had time to reference a book I read as a small child entitled “If Everybody Did” by Jo Ann Stover. It’s a book I read a long time ago when I was a kid and the lesson the book attempts to teach is that while one person doing something does not have a great effect, if everybody did the same thing it causes a much larger reaction.

No one expects you to change the world singlehandedly. Many of the problems we face today are truly collective action problems, but what if everybody made the decision to do just one thing to help the planet. What if we all took one simple step towards preserving the Earth? It can be a big thing, or it can be a little thing. That is exactly what earthday.org is doing with their billion acts of green campaign. If you go to http://act.earthday.org/ you can see there are 102,013,078 (and counting) pledges from people just like you and me to help make a difference. That’s over one hundred million people! Imagine if everybody did? We can all make a difference, with small changes, because small changes make a big difference.

Is bottled water just a bad habit?

Apple tree in blossom

Why do you drink bottled water? Yes, I am talking to you, and don’t worry there is not a right or wrong answer here. Maybe you don’t drink bottled water at all, maybe just once or twice a week…or maybe your fridge is stocked full with it. How much water you drink and where you get it from is not really the point I want to make. The simple question is, why do you drink bottled water?

I read a short piece from Dr. John Grohol today on The Psychology of Bottle Water that I think brings up a very good point. Soda companies started selling bottled water to be able to sell to consumers who were not interested in soft drinks and carbonated beverages. These companies claim that bottled water fills a need in society by providing a healthier choice to their customers. Dr. Grohol disagrees, “We’re buying bottled water because it’s there and Americans are drawn to convenience” not because we are now choosing to be healthier and drink water instead of soda.

Further Grohol claims that twenty years ago it was unheard of to pay for water in a bottle. Savvy corporations have managed to change our perception of water from something free to a product we spend our hard earned money on. This is particularly problematic because “we’ve moved from accepting water from a water fountain to accepting the exact same or very similar water from a rarely-recycled plastic bottle”. With so few of the plastic bottles finding their way into the recycling the convenience we are paying for with bottled water is polluting the earth.

We have developed a very bad habit, but that doesn’t make us bad people. Bottled water is definitely convenient, but if you find yourself buying bottled water when there is a tap nearby at work or in your home, stop and think. You can save a lot of money just by drinking tap water instead of bottled water and there really is not a big taste difference between the two choices. If you know you are not going to have access to a water fountain or tap, plan ahead and bring your own bottle of water filled at home. There are a lot of great options for re-usable bottles in all shapes and sizes. Start a new habit of saving money and reducing the amount of plastic waste you produce each day by packing your own water to drink or refilling from a public water supply (which is also free). Drinking water every day is really good for you, but giving up bottled water doesn’t mean you have to stop drinking water.

The first thing I do when I get to work is fill a glass of water from the fridge in the break room. If your workplace has easy access to free public water take a moment to think about why you would ever need a bottled water? Sure, it is convenient, but is the cost of convenience really worth it?

When BPA-free does not equal “safe”

Bpa free

This is a subject that I came across a while back and have spent some time exploring, but this week Beth Terry of myplasticfreelife put up a post that covered the topic perfectly. I highly recommend reading her post about the other estrogenic chemicals that can leach out of plastic and into your food and water. You should also follow her on twitter @plasticfreebeth

The whole post is a great read (so check it out!), but here are a few crucial facts about why we need to move away from disposable plastics and find a more sustainable solution. This is what Beth has been doing since 2007 and her blog is full of advice and information on how to reduce your plastic footprint.

Many brands are now advertising that their products are BPA-free. From baby products to bottled water, companies have been quick to jump on the bandwagon and now advertise that they are BPA-free. As Beth points out “entire shelves of baby products are labelled BPA-free. Are they safe?” Companies want us to believe that BPA-free means that the chemicals used in their plastics are safe, but just because a product is not made with Bisphenol-A does not mean it is safe.

Beth took a 33 page study from the University of Texas and presented it on her blog in a way that is very easy to understand. A big thanks to her for the great work she put in. The UT study “confirms that hormone-disrupting chemicals leach from almost all plastics, even BPA-free plastics.” What does that mean? All those baby products and water bottles can still leach chemicals with Estrogen Activity into beverages and foods that are stored in them. This is bad because chemicals with Estrogen Activity “mimics the hormone estrogen in the body” and can cause a variety of health problems.

Have you ever left a bottled water in your car while you went to shop or see a movie? When you came back did the water taste different? If it was a sunny day the odds are that are that some chemicals leached from the plastic PET bottle into your water. Why is that? In the UT study researchers also tested plastics under duress and found that “plastics are more likely to leach chemicals when exposed to various stressors like heat or light, the researchers also tested the products after subjecting them to UV radiation (mimicking the effect of sunlight)”. So let’s review. Disposable plastics are destroying the environment, cost more money, and also leach chemicals into food and water that disrupt hormone levels, check. Sounds like a great product line.

As I have written about recently, some companies are now touting a new bio-based plant plastic that is not made with petroleum. These new plastics are still not biodegradable and further “71% of all the PLA samples tested were found to leach EA chemicals as well”. Do not buy the hype about plant based plastic, it may be better than petroleum based plastic, but it is not safer for you as the consumer.

Make the decision to use less plastic every day. Why buy plastic water bottles when the water in your home is cheap and also most likely safer to drink? An obvious first step to reduce how much plastic you buy is to put down the bottle and take control of your water.

For the rest of Beth’s research on estrogenic chemicals in plastic you can check out her blog at www.myplasticfreelife.com

A newer “greener” bottle?

Plants

The biggest players in the bottled beverage industry have announced a change to a more green friendly bottle. The new bottles from Pepsi are made from 100% plant based renewable sources (for a great breakdown of the new Pepsi bottle check out myplasticfreelife.com), while Coke has announced their new bottles will be 30% plant based. This is definitely a move in the right direction by both companies. At least this shows that we are seeing a shift in the mindset of major players like Pepsi, Coke and Nestle, but it still is not a substantial change to the problem posed by single use plastic bottles…and here is why.

  • These new bottles are not biodegradable, despite the fact that the name makes them sound that way
  • These new bottles are still made from PET plastic, which can leach endocrine disrupting chemicals
  • The majority of plastic bottles are not recycled
  • Pepsi’s bottles only use 10% rPET (recycled PET) from recycled bottles

I still avoid plastic bottles and prefer re-usable coffee thermoses and water canteens. Filling your own bottles at home will always be cheaper than buying bottled water and helps cut down on waste. Don’t be fooled by the new plant based PET bottles, they are still not biodegradable. If you do buy them like all plastic they should be recycled.

A little history lesson

Drought on a shoreline

How much time do you spend each day thinking about where water comes from and where it goes? Probably not very much and I have to admit I often take it for granted too. Since I watched the Tapped documentary though I have had a bug in my brain about the drought of 2007. I grew up in Dekalb county, but had moved to Raleigh by 2007. A few years ago local communities were running dangerously low on water and still people were dragging their feet when it came to conservation. Back in Atlanta folks were hit pretty hard by the drought as well.

Nestle’s new Pure Life brand is being bottled from municipal sources meaning yet another high volume seller has joined Dasani and Aquafina re-bottling public water. Approximately 40% of bottled water is taken from municipal sources and with Nestle moving their Pure Life brand in that direction this percentage is likely to go up. This bothers me for a couple of reasons, public water systems are supported with our taxpayer dollars. This means that we are subsidizing the commercialization of our own water and then being charged hundreds of times more for that same water. So when you buy a bottle of Dasani, Aquafina, or Pure Life water you are essentially buying water that you already pay taxes on to get from your tap.

Which brings me to Atlanta back in 2007 when the shores of Lake Allatoona and the Chattahoochee River were dwindling from the drought. Meanwhile, as Thomas Wheatley pointed out, Coke was taking public water to bottle for their Dasani brand.

The Coca Cola company was doing what made the most sense and running business as usual to meet public demand. The irony is that had the city of Atlanta run out of water people would have been drinking the same water that used to flow from their taps, but they would have been paying as much as 2000 times more for it. Don’t you think it is time we stopped fueling the bottled water industry? Take control of your water and give up the bottle. You can filter your own tap water with a home filter and fill re-usable containers instead of buying bottled water. I have a built in filter in the fridge so I get most of my drinking water from there. How do you filter your water? I look forward to seeing your comments so we can share some ideas about how we can all make smarter decisions about our drinking water.

UC Berkeley vote may do away with bottled water sales on campus

Bottled water stash

As a part of this year’s ASUC voting at UC Berkeley students are asked to lend their support for Bill 94 to help UC Berkeley reach its waste reduction goals. The vote, which lasts from April 5th-7th, will determine the fate of bottled water sales on campus. Thanks to @MyWaterOurWater for sharing the Daily Clog post about the vote.

I wanted to find out more about the ASUC voting so I looked up the 2011 UC Berkeley voters guide to see what Bill 94 was all about and have included it below in it’s entirety.

Bill 94 The End the Sale of Bottled Water Initiative

“UC Berkeley currently has a goal to reach 75% waste diversion by 2012 and zero-waste by 2020. Barring emergency situations, do you support the respectful request for

(1) the renogotiation of any existing campus contracts to phase out the purchase, sale, and distribution of bottled water
(2) for increased campus access to public water including hydration stations and better maintenance of drinking fountains, in order to aid the realization of the aforementioned waste-reduction goals?”

Given what we know about plastic pollution and the negative effect that bottled water has on the environment, especially in the ocean, it is great to see more students get involved with our future. Bottled water is not sustainable, especially when you consider that only 10% of singe-use water bottles will be recycled. The second point in Bill 94 promotes better maintenance and more availability of hydration stations on campus so students don’t have to buy bottled water and can carry re-usable canteens instead. This is the perfect solution. Nobody likes to pay the high premium on bottled water so give them a viable alternative.

Your home has a hydration station already, your refrigerator. Your fridge is probably where you go when you are thirsty so be sure to keep it stocked with plenty of water, just not the bottled kind please. Use a water pitcher or dispenser to fill a re-usable bottle or glass and drink responsibly. If you have a newer refrigerator it may already have a water filter built-in. You can put Bill 94 to use in your home and help reduce your waste too.

Image Source: Klearchos Kapoutsis under Creative Commons

Dolphins ditch plastic bottles

Klean kanteen
Are you smarter than an 8th grader? I found this story on the Santa Cruz Sentinel site about a school that is ditching plastic water bottles in favor of reusable canteens. At Scotts Valley Middle School in California the students have picked up on a bright idea for the future, stop drinking from plastic water bottles. It can all be summed up in the message eighth-grader Hanna shared at a presentation for other students, “Water bottle trash is out of control. About 90 percent of the garbage in the ocean is plastic. Most of the garbage on the beach is plastic.” If you already knew that than you are at least as smart as Hanna when it comes to plastic pollution.

The class project to promote reusable canteens was put together by 3rd year teacher Brendan Dilloughery and received a $6,000 grant for the school from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So not only are the students at Scotts Valley Middle School learning about great ways to help the environment they are also learning there is a financial benefit to it as well. For the rest of us who won’t be receiving a $6,000 grant to stop using plastic water bottles there is still a direct reward to our wallet by giving up bottled water. Bottled water is far more expensive than tap water. Fill a reusable bottle, like this stainless steel bottle from Klean Kanteen, with water taken from your home refrigerator. The water will already be nice and cold and costs far less than even the cheapest brand of bottled water on the market.

I am pretty sure that the ocean bound namesakes of the Scotts Valley Middle School Dolphins would be proud of the students for their contribution to stopping plastic pollution.

10 Ways to Protect Groundwater

Small stream in woods

April Fools Day is wrapping up and I hope you were all able to enjoy a good joke or prank today, hopefully not at your own expense either. Even on a fun day like April 1st it is important to think about some serious topics too. I found a great bulletin from Groundwater.org that lists their top ten ways to protect groundwater. I have copied the list into the post for you to check it out.

I think the thing that surprises me the most is how simple it can be to make a difference. Things like taking shorter showers and only running the washing machine or dishwasher when they have a full load are easy and actually will save you money too. My favorite point on the list has to be keeping a pitcher of water in your fridge. One of the big attractions to bottled water is how easy it is to just open the fridge and grab some water to drink. I know because I feel the same draw towards convenience, but bottled water is really bad for the environment and carries a higher price tag as well. Try filling a pitcher with water and storing that in the fridge so that when you need a quick sip you can quickly poor into a glass or a re-usable bottle instead. If your refrigerator has a water filter just fill the glass or bottle from your dispenser. If you don’t have a water filter you can get a pitcher that has a built-in filter. When you refill from that pitcher you will be getting cool, clean, and delicious water straight from your fridge and you will be saving money too.

Here is the full list from groundwater.org of how we can all help protect and conserve groundwater. Each day we can make good choices, like using less water and saying no to single-use plastic bottles.

  1. Reduce household chemical use and dispose of remaining chemicals by taking them to a hazardous waste collection site.
  2. Take used motor oil to a recycling center.
  3. Limit the amount of fertilizer used on plants.
  4. Take short showers.
  5. Shut water off while brushing teeth and shaving.
  6. Run full loads of dishes and laundry.
  7. Check for leaky faucets and have them fixed.
  8. Water plants only when necessary.
  9. Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator.
  10. Get involved in water education.