Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Using (or at least minimizing) our food waste

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

I recently read an article in The New York Times with the interesting title, “Recycling the Leftovers.” It was written by Stephanis Strom, one of their regular correspondents, and covered a variety of programs in America for recycling food scraps. Lynnette and I have been separating our own waste streams that for at least ten years and have a garbage bin, a trash sack, a recycle sack and a composting pail in our kitchen and laundry room. Our waste-collecting company keeps adding new items that can be recycled, but at present we only put out two containers for them: trash goes to the curb to be picked up weekly and recyclables go out every other week.

Composting is one approach to food waste.

Composting is one approach to food waste.

Now the city of Austin, Texas has plans to markedly extend its  food waste pilot project; Strom’s article says 14,000 Austin residences currently have a third garbage bin, one for food scraps, collected weekly Twenty-five years ago the city started with a “Dillo Dirt” program; the city made over a quarter million dollars last year selling the end product, compost made from yard clippings and treated sewage sludge. The newer approach, adding organic waste, currently has enrolled less than 10% of the city’s ~185,000 households; the plan is for all of them to be offered the service. I’m unaware of a city-wide program here in Fort Collins for food scrap recycling; ours end up  in a vermiculture bin that’s outdoors, but in a fenced-in corner. The worms doing most of the work in turning food waste into compost thus far have survived our winters.

The concept is being highlighted nationally by the U.S. Food Waste Challenge (FWC), a joint project of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The goal of the FWC is to bring about a “fundamental shift” in the way we manage and even think about food and food waste. The USDA/EPA wants to have 400 organizations enrolled this years and 1,000 by 2020 and they are well on their way already with an impressive list of governmental and private partners including companies, colleges and universities, K-12 schools and at least one major hospital having joined.

We as individuals can’t join the FWC, but there is a webpage of suggestions for consumers. Basically it says shop thoughtfully, cook with care, serve portions that you’ll eat then and there, save whatever can be kept (while eating what would otherwise spoil) and, if possible, grow part of your meal. It also mentions we should shop our own refrigerators first; plan meals before we go grocery shopping so as to buy only those items we actually need; freeze, preserve or can seasonal produce; ask restaurants to bag up leftovers and be realistic at all-you-can eat buffets.

I was at a writers’ meeting recently and drove to the event with my long-time writing mentor. She said her family almost always eats everything she buys, but even with a husband and three teenagers on board I knew she was being modest. She obviously shops carefully and plans ahead.

Our lunch yesterday featured a Quiche my wife (professionally a Jung) made that was “Jung Fun.” It wasn’t your typical recipe, but used up everything in the vegetable drawer that was needing to be eaten ASAP. We still occasionally have spoiled vegetables and fruits, especially when our CSA gives us more than its usual abundance, but those go into the compost bin.

We did go to the CSA a few days ago to purchase four beefsteak tomato plants. We’ve got a special above-ground gadget for planting tomatoes and have consistently done well with those we bought at a nursery, but, having grown up eating beefsteak tomatoes, I’m really looking forward to have an abundance of them. Our local grocery store generally has good produce, much of it grown locally or regionally, yet it’s been my experience that homegrown tomatoes are several orders of magnitude better than anything I can buy at a store.

Beefsteak tomatoes are yummy!

Beefsteak tomatoes are yummy!

The EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge webpage has a horrifying set of statistics from 2011 (they’re still collecting/collating the 2013 stats apparently, but what happened to 2012?). Almost all (96%) of the 36 million tons of food waste generated in 2011 ended up in landfills or incinerators. The food sent to landfills breaks down and releases methane, a nasty greenhouse gas, twenty times as effective in increasing global temperature than CO2 is. More than a third of all methane released into the atmosphere comes from landfills (domesticated livestock accounts for 20% and natural gas and oil systems another 20%) .

While all that food is being wasted and much of it is contributing to global climate changes, 14.9% of U.S. households were food insecure in 2011, not knowing where they’d get their next meal. Fortunately we have a strong local Food Bank serving Larimer County and their “Plant It Forward” campaign’s 2014 goal is to obtain 15,000 pounds of produce donated by local gardeners.

So where are you in the nationwide quest to cut food waste?

 

Toxins for tots and the rest of us too: part one

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

This speaks for itself

All of us are exposed to potentially dangerous substances in many of our household products, but there’s been increasing concern that pregnant women need to pay special attention to  the ever-growing list of chemicals around the home. I just read an article published in The New York Times nine days ago with the gripping title “Is It Safe to Play Yet?” The subtitle described what’s going on in many families: “Going to Extreme Lengths to Purge Household Toxins.”

I found a reference to an extraordinary study which examined umbilical cord blood samples drawn from ten infants of minority heritage: African-American, Asian or Hispanic. Five independent laboratories were involved and up to 232 toxic chemicals were found. I was familiar with the Environmental Working Group, one of the two non-profits who commissioned the research, but not with Rachel’s Network which I found online. It’s a women’s organization named in honor of Rachel Carson whose book, Silent Spring, in many aspects launched the modern environmental movement.

EWG had been unable to find any published studies focused on minority group infants, yet some of their homes are more likely to be situated near busy highways and roads, to be closer to industrial shops and factories and to have been built before current safety standards were established.

Other studies have found up to 358 chemicals in cord blood of US infants; some are acknowledged as possible cancer-causing agents, nervous-system toxins or endocrine hormone disrupters. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, says those latter toxins can be found in metal food cans, plastic bottles, food, toys, cosmetics, detergents, pesticides and flame retardants. Their adverse effects have increased potential to harm fetuses and young babies as their bodies develop.

asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a rare cancer usually of the lining of the lungs and chest cavity

Our Toxic Substances Control Act, is a 1976 law that, unfortunately, grandfathered most existing chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was mandated to protect the public by regulating the manufacture and sale of chemicals But 60,000 chemicals were excluded because they were already in use and over the following years the EPA succeeded in restricting only five of those: one was asbestos, but two years after the chemical was banned the rule was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court as being too broad.

In contrast, the European Union, in 2007, passed REACH, the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals act that applies to all chemical substances; not only those used in industrial processes but also in day-to-day lives, for example in cleaning products, paints as well as in articles such as clothes, furniture and electrical appliances.

REACH places the burden of proof on companies. To comply with the regulation, companies must identify and manage the risks linked to the substances they manufacture and market in the EU. They have to demonstrate to a governmental agency how the substance can be safely used, and they must communicate those risk management measures to the users.

One estimate, published in Health Affairs in 2011, estimated the US spends $76.6 billion a year on kids’ medical issues that may be related to their environment.

We have a long ways to go, both in determining which chemicals are actually risky and banning or controlling their use.

And, on the other hand, knowing which chemicals, old and new, are safe for us and our offspring.

Arsenic: it’s in juices too, along with lead

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Any arsenic or lead here?

In September of 2011 Dr. Oz, the Columbia University cardiothoracic surgeon turned TV personality, reported on a problem with apple juice. His show is often on one of the six screens in front of our health club’s exercise bikes. I didn’t know much about him and routinely read a book on the recumbent bike I ride for an hour, so I paid little attention…then.

His comments applied only to apple juice. He had commissioned an independent lab to check the arsenic level in five brands of  juice. They  found 10 of the 36 samples had arsenic levels higher than the EPA’s drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb).

The FDA called his publicizing the results of his study “irresponsible and misleading,” saying drinking all brands of apple juice is safe. What he hadn’t asked the lab to do was to determine if that toxin was in its inorganic form, felt to be dangerous, or in the less dangerous organic form. The FDA said they retested the same batches of juice and found the levels of the more toxic form to be well within safe limits, “almost zero.”

Their standard for combined organic and inorganic arsenic is 23 ppb; foods or beverages measuring above that level get retested to determine how much inorganic arsenic is present.

Let’s think about that cutoff level; drinking water, to be “safe” used to have less than 50 ppb, more recently 10 ppb has been set as the upper limit. As I’ve mentioned before, the state of New Jersey now has a standard of 5 ppb.

But in at the end of November, 2011, the website, MedPage Today briefly noted the results of a confirmatory study. Consumer Reports decided to measure both arsenic and lead in apple juice and grape juice. Nine of the 88 samples they had checked exceeded the “safe” limit.

This is supposed to be safe

Then in January, 2012, Consumer Reports.org published their full report online. That article mentioned that 25% of their samples had lead levels over the FDA’s bottled-water limit of 5 ppb. And of the 10% of the samples with elevated arsenic amounts, most was the highly toxic inorganic variety.

That report is well worth reading. The Consumers Union group, an advocacy offshoot of Consumer Reports urged that new limits be set for these toxins in juice: 5 ppb for lead and 3 ppb for arsenic. Groundwater contamination with those toxins was implicated in the elevated amounts found in fruit juices. Human activities release three times as much arsenic into our environment as do natural sources

Then in early February two senior members of Congress, one from New Jersey and one from Connecticut, introduced the “Arsenic Prevention and Protection from Lead Exposure in Juice Act of 2012,” AKA the “APPLE Juice Act of 2012.” If it passes, the FDA would be required to establish standards for arsenic and lead in fruit juices in two years time.

The other issue, of course, is how much juice kids actually drink. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no juice until age 6 months, and no more than 6 ounces a day until age six. The reality is over a third of a sample of 555 children, 25% of those age two and under and 45% of kids aged from 3 to 5, exceeded those limits.

We’ve got a long ways to go, but at least we’re hearing about these threats to the health of our kids and grandkids.