Posts Tagged 'eco-friendly'

Parents, protectors of the Earth

hand holding small earth

The experience of having a child brings with it an intuitive sense to protect our children from harm. This sense brings with it a set of shared actions that most parents engage in to protect their babies from the outside world. We educate ourselves on the latest and greatest baby-proofing devices. We stand in grocery store aisles reading long lists of ingredients on the backs of boxes. We survey our doctors, friends, and family members to learn about their experiences as a parent to get advice on what to do, and what not to do. We do all of these things because we want our child to be safe and healthy. But, what are we doing to keep the physical world in which they will grow up in healthy?

In the same way that we instinctively try to protect our children, we also must find ways to protect earth from the damage caused by human-made waste. Becoming more aware of how we can reduce our own negative impact on the environment, and remove the waste that we produce in our world will help. This awareness can help our children to understand the role that they can play to help our earth recover from the waste that today’s generation and earlier generations have produced.

It is our responsibility to make our earth healthier, safer, and a cleaner place for our children as well as for the other inhabitants of our planet. Let us thank Mother Earth by becoming good environmental overseers of her.

Some of the ways that new parents can help earth recover from the debris that comes along with having a baby include the following actions.

  • Reduce your use of disposable products
    • Sustainable Baby Steps offers a great set of suggestions in “Over 35 alternatives to plastics
    • Consider using cloth diapers versus disposable ones. A great place to learn more about this change is from Mama Natural.
  • Reduce your refuse impact
    • One quick and easy way is to stop using plastic bags. Invest in reusable tote bags for groceries and other carriables.
    • Check out the article “15 Ways to Reduce Landfill Waste” by Conserve Energy Future to see how you can lessen your load of garbage in landfills.
  • Reuse everyday items
    • Handing down baby clothes and toys to a friend or family member is a great practice that helps reduce your negative impact on the environment.
    • You can make baby toys from everyday household items with this article from Pathways.org.
  • Recycle
    • Recycle Nation lists 15 recyclable baby items.
    • Bright Horizons has some great answers on how to recycle baby bottles.
    • Visit your local recycling center to find out what you can and cannot recycle. If you live around Beaumont Royal Oak, your city may be a member of SOCRRA.
    • Looking to recycle a particular item? Earth911 lets you enter your zip code and material to be recycled to help you find a place that collects it near you.

– Lisa Ball is an intern with the Beaumont Parenting Program. She’s pursuing a degree in social work.

Earth Day every day

heart earth from sticks and shells

Unaltered image. Kate Ter Haar, Flickr. CC license.

Children love to get out into nature and have fun. They also love to help and learn new skills. Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to weave those together. You can celebrate with your children in your own backyard or attend one of the many local events for families listed below.

Since we need our Earth to be healthy every day (and not just once a year), I challenge you to find an activity that will have lasting meaning for you and your children and make a pledge. Perhaps even consider a service to the Earth.

Find your (or your child’s) “love” from the list below and learn what you can do. Easy activities may take a few minutes. More challenging tasks can be done in an afternoon. Commitments are ongoing. Here are some ideas to get started.

Love: Playing outside in the yard

  • Pledge: Avoid chemical pesticides in your lawn and garden.
  • Activities
    • Easy: Embrace the dandelions!
      • Make dandelion flower chains with your young children.
      • For older children, make your own pest control spray with this recipe.
    • Challenge: Plant native plants and trees. These varieties don’t need high amounts of water, fertilizer or pest control. Bonuses: They attract birds and beneficial insects to eat any pests. Children can help choose which plant species to add to the landscape and where, then use a smaller size shovel to help dig.
    • Commit:
      • Use manual and non-toxic techniques to remove weeds.  Small hands are great for pulling young weeds, but maybe leave thistle and picky plants for gloved grown up hands or shovels.
      • Learn more about green gardening.

Love: Going to the local park

  • Pledge: Keep your favorite park beautiful and toxic-free.
  • Activities
    • Easy: Bring a bag, wear gloves, and pick up litter.
    • Challenge: Inquire about the pesticide policies at your favorite park and request pesticide-free.
    • Commit: Volunteer to help maintain (e.g., pull weeds, spread mulch, etc.) a pesticide-free playground or park.

Love: Bees and butterflies

  • Pledge: Provide food sources and habitat for pollinators.
  • Activities
    • Easy: Dandelions and clover are important food sources for bees.
      • Spread clover seeds in your lawn to attract and support bees.
      • Let the dandelions flower.
    • Challenge:
      bee house

      Bee house by Ty Gwenyn. Flickr, CC license.

      • Plant milkweed seeds in your garden for monarchs.
      • Plant other native plants to attract pollinators.
      • Build native bee houses.
      • Make a bee watering dish by putting rocks and pebbles in a wide, shallow bowl and partially covering the rocks with fresh water.
    • Commit: Avoid neonicotinoid (neonics), a type of insecticide.
      • Don’t buy neonicotinoid pesticides. (Look for a warning label and a small picture of a bee.)
      • Don’t purchase plants that have had neonics applied.
      • Ask your favorite bedding plants store to avoid neonics products on shelves and on bee-friendly plants.

Love: The Earth’s climate

  • Pledge: Use less energy.
  • Activities
    • Easy: Post small reminders to turn lights off when leaving a room and to unplug unused devices and appliances. Try: “Be nice, unplug twice: once at the outlet, once at the device.”
    • Challenge: Think foot power
      • Leave the car in the garage for short trips that are close to home, like to the park, school or errands.
      • Gear up your family’s bikes. Kids can pump air into bike tires, help clean bike chains, etc.
    • Commit:
      • Set up a clothes line or rack to take advantage of free solar energy to dry clothes (even if just some of your loads) and give the second biggest consumer of electricity in your household a time out. No need to spend money and energy heating up clothes in a machine when it’s plenty hot outside!
      • Speaking of hot, remember to forego the A/C whenever possible or turn it to a lower setting.

These are just a few ideas, but we can think about the Earth in all of our favorite activities. If you love to swimming or spending time on the water, find ways to help protect rivers, the Great Lakes, and our oceans (such as avoiding microbeads in facial scrubs and sparkles in toothpaste, or helping at a beach clean up day). Gather ideas from your children as well. They may offer up some wonderful surprises!

If you’re looking for more ways to explore the bounty, the beauty, and the wonders of this planet, check out one of these local Earth Day 2017 events. Events are free unless otherwise noted.

  • GreenFest at the Detroit Zoo, Royal Oak
    Saturday, April 22, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
    Cost: Free with Admission (Bring in an old cell phone for reduced admission of $9)

Our children are passionate about the Earth. Let’s find ways to have fun and also show them that they can make a difference!

– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at melissas@ecocenter.org or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg

Plain soap and water

mom and son washing hands

Cropped image. Cade Martin and Dawn Arlott, PIXNIO. CC license.

How many times a day do doctors wash their hands? Dozens, perhaps. And they encourage us to follow effective hand-washing techniques as well.

“But, the conversation shouldn’t end there”, according to Dr. Paula Kim, M.D. with Beaumont Health, clinical professor at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, and associate professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. She says, “The next questions are: What type of soap is used at home? Is it an antibacterial? Or is it plain soap and water?”

The Centers for Disease Control, American Medical Association, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and others overwhelmingly encourage people to use non-antibacterial (plain) soap and warm water, and to rub hands together for a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds.

Why plain soap? Isn’t an antibacterial product more effective? Surprisingly, no. In 2013 the FDA challenged manufacturers of over-the-counter antibacterial hand and body soaps to prove that their products are more effective at killing germs than plain soap and water. And they couldn’t do it.

“There’s no data demonstrating that these drugs provide additional protection from diseases and infections. Using these products might give people a false sense of security,” says Theresa M. Michele, M.D., of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products.

Due to health risks, including bacterial resistance, the FDA banned manufacturers from using almost all antibacterial chemicals, including the widely used triclosan. Manufacturers of hand and body soaps (soaps intended to be used with water) have until September 2017 to switch their formulations. The new rule affects most of the liquid hand soaps and bar soaps currently on the market. It does not affect hand sanitizers or hand wipes.

Health risks

The FDA is heeding the warning of research showing that the use of triclosan can lead to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, making them ineffective. The agency also expressed concern over triclosan’s potential hormonal effects. According to the FDA, “…recent studies have demonstrated that triclosan showed effects on the thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone systems in several animal species, including mammals, the implications of which on human health, especially for children, are still not well understood.”

Other organizations, such as the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), have found — in addition to concerns about endocrine activity — triclosan carries risks for the reproductive system and brain development.

Exposure

We likely use at least one product every day that contains triclosan. Antibacterial chemicals are added to thousands of products, including household cleaners, cosmetics (including deodorant, toothpaste and mouthwash), clothing, furniture, lunchboxes, backpacks, food packaging, kitchen utensils, children’s toys and more. But the chemical doesn’t simply stay in those products. Researchers found triclosan in household dust, in streams and other waterways, in wildlife, in human plasma and breast milk, and in drinking water.

Indeed the multitude of exposure paths was a driving factor behind the FDA’s original inquiry. According to a September 2016 FDA Consumer Update factsheet, Antibacterials? You Can Skip It – Use Plain Soap and Water, “…people’s long-term exposure to triclosan is higher than previously thought, raising concerns about the potential risks associated with the use of this ingredient over a lifetime.”

Consumers

Many people use antibacterial soaps without knowing they are using an OTC drug. Shoppers should watch out for the word “antibacterial” or the phrase “kills germs”. Generally, we find these words and phrases reassuring. But remember that it isn’t necessary to kill all the germs, but to simply remove them with plain soap and water. Then wash them down the drain. A drug facts label on a soap or body wash is a sign a product contains antibacterial ingredients. As Dr. Kim always encourages her patients, “Read the label on anything you buy. Read what’s in it!”

More information

You don’t have to settle for toxic triclosan in your household cleaners either. Dr. Kim suggests her patients to “use natural things if possible, such as vinegar and water.” White vinegar is a food-grade anti-microbial that can kill germs on surfaces. Or look for Clean Well brand soaps and sanitizers, which use thyme oil as the active ingredient to kill germs. Some of the Seventh Generation brand cleaning products include the Clean Well technology also.

– Melissa Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at melissas@ecocenter.org or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg.

Gifts for your mother (Earth, that is)

Furoshiki gifts

image credit: agata.org.ua

 

As with most mothers, it’s the simple things—the heart-felt things—that matter most to our planet Earth. Practicing simple habits throughout the season can make a big difference.

Gift-giving

Before purchasing a gift or other item for the holiday, do a quick mental checklist. Does the item have:

  • Low mileage? (Is the backstory like a retelling of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?”) When you opt for locally and regionally made products, you significantly reduce the transportation pollution connected to your gift. You will boost the local economy, too.
  • Minimal or no packaging? According to the EPA, almost one-third of municipal waste in the U.S. is discarded packaging. Paper or cardboard packaging is more easily recycled than plastic.
  • Natural content? From cradle (production) to grave (disposal), plastic and other petroleum-based materials (such as polyester fleece) wreak havoc on the environment and the health of the people who live near the facilities. A gift made of natural materials is also the least toxic option for the recipient.

Tip: Give homemade gifts; an “experience” such as tickets to a play, museum, or movie; an activity such as ice skating; or a service (e.g., a massage) for a perfect score on your checklist.

Energy

  • When updating and adding to your holiday light collection, opt for LEDs. They use 70 percent less energy than traditional bulbs.
  • Use a timer to control when the holiday lights turn on and off.
  • Wrap your home! No, not with yards of gift paper and bows! Install storm doors and windows. Cover windows with plastic if you don’t have storm windows. Block drafts under doors.
  • Ask Santa to install a programmable thermostat for an estimated 10 percent cut in energy costs and use.

Waste

Americans throw away about 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Non-material gifts win in this category as well because experiences or services don’t need wrapping. We would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields if every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials. Ways to reuse materials:

  • Reuse gift bags.
  • Repurpose old t-shirts, maps, sheet music, newspaper comics, scarves, fabric, or handkerchiefs instead of using new wrapping paper.
  • Turn cereal boxes inside out and decorate them.
  • Use reusable tins or decorative storage boxes.
  • Save used gift wrappings for the next holiday. Recycle any wrappings that can’t be reused.
  • Close the loop: Buy gifts made from recycled content.

Food waste

About 40 percent of the food grown in the country is wasted, according to Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue organization in southeast Michigan. One way to make a difference is to adjust your expectation of cosmetic beauty and buy “ugly” produce. Oddly shaped produce often sits on the shelf and becomes waste before it is even sold. More ideas:

  • Make a grocery list and stick to it. Don’t buy or make more than you need.
  • Keep reusable containers on hand for leftovers for you and others. Look up new recipes for leftovers.
  • Compost any food waste in a backyard pile or a vermiculture (worm!) bin.

Decorations

Keep it real whenever you can. Whether it’s a tree, a wreath, a swag, or table centerpiece, real greenery is healthier for you and the planet. Artificial trees and decorations are made of PVC plastic and cannot be recycled. They can also have lead, phthalates and other toxic chemicals. Experts recommend that parents don’t let children play under artificial trees. Real trees, on the other hand, are renewable, recyclable and produce oxygen. Farmers plant one to three seedlings for every tree cut.

Consider these ideas like the ultimate handmade card to Mother Earth: They aren’t hard, they just take a little extra time, consideration and love.

– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at melissas@ecocenter.org or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg.

Gardening for bees and children

Boy and girl laying in field of dandelions

Unaltered image. William Prost, Flickr. CC license.

Spring has finally handed Old Man Winter his coat and hat and sent him on his way. Life in our yards reemerges as the grass turns green, robins return, and bees begin buzzing. But one sign of spring isn’t always welcome: the humble dandelion.

However I dare to say: Let’s celebrate the little sun-like flower heads!

What? The scourge of green landscapes everywhere?

Yes! These bits of yellow dotting our lawns are a most welcome site to pollinators (and children) who endured the barren, winter months. Dandelions offer hungry bees their first source of nectar each spring, sustaining our pollinators until the abundance of the season blooms in full. And have you ever met a small child more joyous than one picking dandelion flowers, making dandelion chains, or blowing their white fluffy seeds?

European settlers intentionally brought dandelions to America for its nutrient-dense leaves (which are also a gentle diuretic), its liver-cleansing root, and its flowers that can be made into wine. It seems the plant is quite comfortable here, employing its long tap root to break up compacted soils everywhere. It’s fitting that this European native plant supports the European honeybee so perfectly.

Across the country — and the world — people are concerned about the continual and dramatic decline of bees, monarch butterflies, and other pollinators. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates a nation-wide loss of 42 percent of managed honeybee colonies in 2015 (some states lost more than 60 percent). Native pollinator numbers are harder to track, but a recent article in BioScience states that half of the 46 or 47 species of bumblebees in the United States are in some level of decline. The Xerces Society estimates 80 percent fewer monarch butterflies in North America than the average population over the past 21 years.

The good news: Anyone with a yard can contribute to helping these important species. The first step is to offer food in the form of nectar and pollen. Embrace pollen and nectar-rich flowers like dandelions, clover, goldenrod and aster that appear in your yard. The next step is to not poison your visitors once they do accept your invitation; in other words, avoid all lawn and garden pesticides. This will create a healthy place for children and pets to play as well. Don’t worry; gardens and lawns can still be beautiful. Visit the Ecology Center’s table and three pesticide-free gardens at the 2016 Grosse Pointe Garden Center Garden Tour!

Here are some additional ways to get started:

  • Go neonic-free. Ask garden centers if their flowering plants are free of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides, which are particularly lethal to bees and other beneficial insects. In 2014, 51 percent of garden plants tested positive for one or more neonic.
    • Home Depot is now labeling plants treated with neonics. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot have agreed to stop selling neonics by 2019. Ask Ace Hardware and True Value to do the same.
    • The U.S. government temporarily halted the registration of any new neonic products.
    • The state of Maryland recently banned the sale of neonics in stores.
  • Treat grubs naturally with beneficial nematodes or milky spore, not Merit® or other products that contain neonicotinoids. Refer to Pest Patrol: Grubs for more tips on grub control. Wondering if your garden product contains neonics? Check this list of brand name products containing neonicotinoids.
  • Avoid weed and feed products. Believe it or not, they are pesticides. Most contain 2,4-D, a dangerous herbicide linked to cancer in humans and canine lymphoma. Learn how to maintain a lawn without pesticides.
  • Gardening for Bees and Children In 2015 Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, was declared a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In November 2015, glyphosate plus another additive in some Roundup formulations were found to have even greater potential health risks. Products are coming off store shelves in Germany and France.
  • Plant native perennials, shrubs, and trees to attract pollinators, as well as beneficial pest-eating insects and birds. Visit The Native Plant Nursery of Michigan, this list of bee-friendly wildflowers and flowers, or this list five spring plants that could save monarch butterflies. Remember: Using pesticides will poison all the bugs (including the beneficial ones) and the birds that eat them.
  • Learn more about successful gardening without pesticides with the Ecology Center’s spring checklist for a healthy yard.

– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at melissas@ecocenter.org or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg.

Hey, Mom and Dad! What is Earth Day anyway?

Black & white hands holding color Earth

Unaltered image. Steven Guzzardi, Flickr. CC license.

We’ve been celebrating Earth Day on April 22 since 1970. What started out as a small grass-roots effort for environmental protection has turned into a day celebrated by 193 countries! Here are some fun ways to celebrate with your children, while showing them how important being earth-friendly is.

Activities and crafts

Learn together

  • Watch this tour of a recycling center with LaVar Burton from “Reading Rainbow.” I’m sure many of our kids have wondered what happens to the stuff in the recycling bin after the truck takes it away.
  • Did you know that water conservation is incredibly important?
    • Learn why, what you can do to help, and check out the game for kids.
    • Then discover 20 ways your family can help save water.
  • Read a book.

Take action

  • Take a walk and discuss how you can help the earth stay healthy.
  • Turn off lights and electronics whenever they aren’t in use.
  • Recycle at home. When you’re out and about, look for recycle bins; remember, you can always bring your things home to recycle.

Toys, décor and more: Chemical flame retardants come full circle

Closeup of Mardi Gras beads

What happens to your old computer after you haul it to the local e-waste recycling drop off? Many of us have seen photos of workers (including children) dismantling electronic waste in developing countries. But then what? Surprisingly, after traveling halfway around the world, parts of your outdated desktop may end up back in your home in any number of items, including children’s products. Items like decorations, costumes, accessories, toys, school supplies, kitchen items, garden tools, apparel, floor tiles and more.

The Ecology Center, a local non-profit organization, sampled more than 1,500 of these products for a recently published, peer-reviewed study. The researchers uncovered evidence that plastics from recycled electronic waste —old computers, phones, TVs, printers, cables, etc. — are contaminating new products with low levels of brominated flame retardants, lead and other metals. The exposure hazards for consumers are not known.

The Journal of Environmental Protection published the paper titled “Toys, Décor and More: Evidence of Hazardous Electronic Waste Recycled into New Consumer Products” in February 2016. (The full text is available here.)

More than 1,500 new consumer products purchased in 2012 through 2014, were analyzed using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to detect metals and bromine in the plastic parts of these items.

Electronic products were much more likely than non-electronics to contain high levels of bromine (greater than 1,000 parts per million), suggesting that flame retardants were intentionally added, as expected. Non-electronic products were more likely to contain between 5 and 100 ppm bromine, suggesting unintentional contamination. But the results of some products didn’t fall into the normal ranges.

“While we expected to find high levels of bromine in electronics,” Ecology Center staff scientist and lead author of the study Gillian Miller says, “we were very surprised to find equally high levels of bromine in beaded necklaces and garlands, such as Mardi Gras beads.” Miller found that besides bromine, these strands of beads — commonly tossed to children at parades and hung in homes during the holidays — also had several other hazardous elements often found in e-waste, including lead.

Electronic and electrical devices typically contain flame retardant chemicals and heavy metals. When plastic parts of these products are recycled into new, non-electronic products, hazardous substances can re-enter the marketplace. Miller and her fellow authors of the study argue that bromine (at both low and high levels) in non-electrical products is at least partly due to brominated flame retardants present in recycled e-waste plastics. E-waste plastics include TV and computer monitor housings, as well as wire and cable insulation.

But why were bromine levels so much higher in the beaded holiday garlands and necklaces than in the other non-electronics? Miller and her colleagues needed to know. To further understand the anomaly, they used a different technique that allowed them to identify specific chemicals. They found five brominated flame retardants (including deca-BDE, which was phased out of U.S. production in 2013) in beads sampled from 50 different necklaces. When cut open and examined with a microscope, the beads were found to be a mixture of tiny plastic chunks. Bromine was heavily concentrated in some of these chunks, suggesting that the bead plastic is made up of tiny pieces of discarded electronics.

A cross-section of a bead

A cross-section of a bead.

The study underscores how these hazardous chemicals persist in our world and will continue to show up long after they are no longer used. The results are consistent with studies by other researchers that have found low concentrations of brominated flame retardants, most likely from recycled e-waste, in plastic kitchen utensils and toys.

This doesn’t mean you should simply throw your old electronics into the trash, where they will be added to the municipal solid waste stream. All of those heavy metals and hazardous chemicals may end up polluting the air and water if not handled properly. The answer may lie with local e-waste recyclers who process outdated gadgets on-site (instead of sending them overseas), practicing strict safety standards, and tracking toxic materials downstream of their facilities; see below for a list. And whether you are shopping for holiday decorations or enjoying a parade, don’t bother reaching for the shiny plastic beads.

– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at melissas@ecocenter.org or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg.

Local e-waste recyclers in southeast Michigan:

  • e-Stewards: The recyclers listed here have committed to the e-Stewards Standard, which prohibits the export of hazardous electronic waste from developed to developing countries while allowing viable technology to be reused. It includes responsible used electronics management and downstream accountability for toxic materials to final disposition.
  • Global Electric Electronic Processing (GEEP): Processes e-waste locally in southeast Michigan and has e-Steward certification.
  • Call2Recycle: The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. accepts old cell phones for free recycling. They have drop-off sites in many cities (usually in stores). Use their location finder to enter your ZIP code to find the closest to you.

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