November 15, 2013
by Peggy
Comments Off on Fluorinated Chemicals in Food Contact Materials

Fluorinated Chemicals in Food Contact Materials

Recently I listened in on the first in a series of free webinars organized by the Green Science Policy Institute covering six classes of chemicals that are of particular concern because they are common in consumer products, but not adequately … Continue reading

September 13, 2013
by Peggy
Comments Off on Sustainable Consumption and Production

Sustainable Consumption and Production

We need to get there. In a recent webinar, I learned that the United Nations and other groups from all around the world are looking at ideas and templates for delinking economic growth and environmental degradation. Some of the quickest … Continue reading

July 31, 2013
by Peggy
Comments Off on Harry Potter and the Magic of Perspective (or How to Make Plastic Pollution Disappear)

Harry Potter and the Magic of Perspective (or How to Make Plastic Pollution Disappear)

Recently my 8 year-old daughter has been swept up in the Harry Potter novels, like her brother before her.  Seemingly over night, she’s been transformed into a speed reader, scarcely able to put down The Deathly Hallows.  J.K. Rowling’s captivating … Continue reading

May 12, 2013
by Peggy
Comments Off on Oceans in the Balance

Oceans in the Balance

The University of Virginia has a Lifetime Learning program called “More than the Score,” that plans educational lectures in conjunction with the home football games each fall. I was particularly interested in one talk from the series this year by … Continue reading

April 18, 2013
by Peggy
Comments Off on Ethane Crackers are Unsavory

Ethane Crackers are Unsavory

Have you ever heard the term “ethane cracker”? Far from the familiar crunchy snack that may spring to mind, an ethane cracker is a type of hydrocarbon processor that breaks oil and gas into smaller molecules, creating ethylene, the monomer … Continue reading

The Ridiculous Death Threat

April 8, 2013 by Peggy | Comments Off on The Ridiculous Death Threat

Did you read it in the newspaper recently? Deaths in San Francisco Spike—Bag Bans to Blame!  It might be scary if it were true.

Red Reusable Bag with Produce

Via Flickr. CC Attribution, Non-commercial, Share -alike by MD Anderson’s Focused on Health

The “big scoop” arises from a study commissioned by the American Chemistry Council (a trade group that represents plastic manufacturers) of 84 reusable bags used for grocery shopping that were tested in Arizona in 2009. The bags were sampled for the following bacteria: listeria, salmonella and E. coli.  No listeria or salmonella were found, but E. coli was found in seven bags.  What kind of E. coli? Dr. Susan Fernyak, director of San Francisco’s Communicable Disease and Control Prevention division, was interviewed by NPR and stated that the study failed to identify the type of E. coli in the bags, “a significant shortcoming.”  According to the CDC, most strains of E. coli are harmless.

Nevertheless, those philosophically and financially opposed to bag bans have made much of the American Chemistry Council study and it keeps popping up, years later, and needing to be aired out all over again.

In 2012, a lawyer/economist named Jonathan Klick and a colleague, Joshua Wright, suggested a link between San Francisco’s plastic bag ban and the city’s death rate from foodborne illness. I find this dramatic video risible, but if you can believe it, blogger Andrew Sullivan had linked to it in a post last year (that’s how I first came to see this), with the shocking “news” of a reusable bag health crisis occurring in San Francisco. 

In early February of this year, conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru published an opinion piece in the Denver Post entitled “The Disgusting Consequences of Plastic-Bag Bans” re-hashing the ACC study and hyping the death threat angle. (“Klick and Wright estimate that the San Francisco [bag] ban results in a 46 percent increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses….”) This time San Francisco’s Department of Public Health felt compelled to respond with a detailed memo to illustrate unequivocally that Klick and Wright’s conclusion was “not warranted.”

In spite of this, Professor Klick (he teaches at Penn Law) is still out there promoting his hypothesis that reusable bags pose a serious health risk. The March/April 2013 issue of the Penn Gazette features Klick’s  outlandish speculation in an article titled “Getting to the Bottom of the Bag,” and of course makes no mention of the San Francisco Department of Health’s take down. champions the BYOR (Bring Your Own Reusable) ethic, so we love reusable bags.  Bringing your own shopping bag is one of the most effective ways to limit unnecessary waste of resources and to reduce environmental damage, human health effects and pollution associated with the life cycle of plastics.

To ensure your bags aren’t harboring any bad bacteria it’s a good idea to wash them periodically with soap and water. Another good way to avoid risk of foodborne illness is to wash or cook your food, and wash your hands before eating. But we bet you already knew that.

December 8, 2012
by Peggy
Comments Off on Water, Water, Every Where

Water, Water, Every Where

Why do we buy water?  Most of the time it’s just because we desperately need a drink, right now. It used to be we could quickly quench our thirst at a public fountain. (According to Wikianswers, the first drinking fountain … Continue reading

December 5, 2012
by Peggy
Comments Off on Virginia needs a container deposit law

Virginia needs a container deposit law

I live in Charlottesville. It’s a beautiful part of central Virginia, but the state doesn’t have a container deposit system in place. Having lived in states where they do have deposits, let me tell you: you notice the difference right … Continue reading

September 19, 2012
by Peggy
Comments Off on PFCs Persist in Us

PFCs Persist in Us

PFCs (perfluorinated compounds) have been described by Environmental Working Group as “…destined to supplant DDT, PCBs, dioxin and other chemicals as the most notorious, global chemical contaminants ever produced.” Given that, you might be surprised to learn that a 2004 … Continue reading

Plastic Bottles: “Endless Possibilities” or Endless Liabilities?

August 27, 2012 by Peggy | Comments Off on Plastic Bottles: “Endless Possibilities” or Endless Liabilities?

Really? Bill McDonough, famed co-author of “Cradle to Cradle,” stumping for Nestle? I happened across this promotional video for Nestle Waters yesterday, and was dumbstruck:

In the video, a series of young people hold an instantly recognizable plastic water bottle in their hands. But the bottle is empty, apparently worthless. Then Bill McDonough tells us that what he sees is not an empty bottle, but a vessel of endless possibilities! Yes, that water bottle is a valuable resource.

We at see that Nestle PET bottle as an almost completely unnecessary waste of valuable resources to begin with. Apart from emergency situations, there is little justification for the production of plastic bottles of water.  We can’t do a better job of explaining why than Annie Leonard does, in her excellent video, “The Story of Bottled Water,” so please watch it.

Bill McDonough rightly points out that bottles can (sometimes) be made into more bottles, or into fleece and carpet. But then what, Bill?  Plastics recycling is by and large a so-called “open loop” system. Plastics get about one more use before going to the landfill or incinerator.  The plain fact is that most plastic doesn’t ever get recycled. And worse yet, far too much gets into the environment, where it will never go away. We have scarcely begun to acknowledge this, let alone deal with the ramifications (see video below).

The most appalling thing about the Nestle video is the way it suggests that, hey, maybe consumers should consider recycling their plastic water bottles. Why do we find this so infuriating?  It’s because the most effective means of getting PET bottles recycled–if that’s the goal– is to require refundable bottle deposits.  Significant deposits, like the 10 cents per bottle currently being considered nationally in Australia. Yet Nestle, Coke and Pepsi, the big three water bottlers, staunchly oppose bottle deposit legislation.

Just this year, the state of Massachusetts planned to update its 30-year-old bottle deposit law. The legislation was wildly popular, with a poll indicating 77% of the public agreed that water bottles, juice bottles and sports drink bottles should all be added to the existing deposit law.  But in early July, at around the time Nestle released their “Endless Possibilities” video, lobbyists for Nestle, Coke, Pepsi, Ocean Spray and Polar Beverages of New England were actively pressuring legislators to reject the updated bottle bill for Massachusetts, claiming that it would decrease their profits. And they were successful.

Where Nestle and Bill McDonough see endless possibilities, we see endless and intolerable liabilities for people and the planet.

Don’t drink the bottled water, #BYOR!