Archive for the ‘advocacy’ Category

Safe Chemicals Act Moving On Up?   Leave a comment

As I caught up on my blogroll today I discovered great news: the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee moved the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S847) up to the full Senate! For the last few years my hopes (along with countless others) have been so high that the 1976 Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) would finally be amended to provided needed modernization. Not that TSCA hasn’t done a lot of good over the last few decades as far as regulation of nasty chemicals/classes of chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorofluorocarbons, dioxin, and hexavalent chromium at least. But there are just so many chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic that are allowed to be used in consumer products with no restrictions. There are so many chemicals that bioaccumulate in tissue, most especially human tissue since we’re at the top of the food chain that are allowed to be used in consumer products with no restrictions. There are so many chemicals that are persistent in the environment, taking significant time to degrade, that are allowed to be used in consumer products with no restrictions.

I have long believed in the Precautionary Principle, and long desired better regulation of chemicals. I define “better” as regulation of chemicals where human health takes priority over corporate bottom lines. Being pregnant heightens the desire. It’s too late for my baby. Baby is at its most vulnerable now since it’s doing all that developing completely immersed in my contaminated womb, and after birth won’t be that much better with still high exposure compared with body weight and development rate just from my contaminated breast milk. Sad but true. Baby’s worse off than I was because the world is more contaminated and by a greater variety of chemicals today than 34-35 years ago.

For all that I believe strongly in the Precautionary Principle, I have to admit that I’m not a supporter of the push to ban BPA. As far as I’m concerned we just can’t go about this one chemical at a time. Plus, if we ban BPA does it get replaced by something more or less toxic? Does that significantly reduce estrogenic activity in those consumer products? BPA is not the only estrogen-mimicker that we are exposed to. On the other hand, we need what the Safe Chemicals Act would do: not allow use (unless an exemption is received) of chemicals that are or may be “known, probably, or suspected reproductive, developmental, neurological, or immunological toxicant, carcinogen, mutagen, or endocrine disruptor”, or “persistent and bioaccumulative”. Manufacture of chemicals that are found in tissue or environmental media at concentrations above what naturally occurs or chemicals that are manufactured or discharged in extremely high quantities would also be restricted. Now that is what I’m talking about!

Posted August 1, 2012 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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This Is The Year Fair Trade Halloween Chocolates Make a Break   2 comments

For the last several years, around this time, I have had the frustrating experience of searching for fair trade mini-chocolates to give to trick-or-treaters. But no more. I followed a link GreenAmerica sent in one of their emails, and found that they had updated their chocolate scorecard to include whether a company has bite-sized candies. There are now several companies selling mini-bars or bite-sized foil wrapped chocolates, and some other more expensive halloween-themed chocolate candies. Plus, in acknowledgement of the large percentage of people who dislike dark chocolates, there are now fair trade mini milk chocolate candies. There are also of course several places from which to buy reverse trick-or-treat kits. So for the first time I think I can encourage people to consider buying fair trade for some of their halloween candy and/or reverse trick-or-treat. (Reverse trick-or-treat is where the kids give a piece of chocolate glued to a postcard about fair trade back to the people giving them candy.)

Check out the chocolate scorecard and GreenAmerica’s website for more info on fair trade. I tend to have a big issue with advertising or product plugging, but fair trade is important enough that I’ll encourage you to check out websites for Divine Chocolates, Equal Exchange, Coco-Zen, Sjaak’s, and Sweet Earth Chocolates. They are still a bit more expensive than what you get at the grocery store, but that’s for better candy, a better economy, and a better world.

Posted October 11, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, fair trade, shopping

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Tenth Anniversary of the Harkin-Engel “Cocoa” Protocol   Leave a comment

September 19th marks the tenth anniversary of the Harkin-Engel Protocol aka the Cocoa Protocol, which is an international agreement signed by major chocolate companies to end forced child labor on cocoa plantations in West Africa. To make the story short, that hasn’t happened. The protocol contained specific objectives with deadlines, but deadlines have slipped by several years, and little progress has been made. I’m not going to get into much background here since I’m not an expert on that side of the issue. As usual, Wikipedia has some info, and GreenAmerica has info and campaigns including a letter-writing campaign to Hershey (one of the worst laggards) and a film investigating the current status of forced child labor.

I’m not very consistent at advocacy, but do much better at action. In this case the major action is to buy fair trade chocolate, since the certification for child labor-free chocolate has not yet been developed. There’s plenty of fair trade chocolate available, although since I don’t shop at a mainstream grocery store I don’t know how accessible it is there. There are several companies and organizations that sell many varieties of fair trade including Dagoba, Green & Black (Maya Gold only), Divine, Theo, Sjaaks, Equal Exchange, SERRV International, Alter Eco, Global Exchange, and Grounds for Change. In our house we use only fair trade cocoa products. Even at work and movies I rarely consume “conventional” chocolate (although I must confess that’s also because I dislike milk chocolate and find most candy bars way too sweet and decidedly not satisfying). I’m not under the delusion that I could convince anyone else to avoid candy bars, but the way I see it any increase in market share for fair trade chocolate manufacturers and corresponding decrease in market share for “conventional” chocolate manufacturers is a good movement that will continue to build momentum.

With Halloween coming out I wish I could say: buy fair trade chocolate to give out to trick-or-treaters. But I won’t. We buy a container of mini-bars of fair trade chocolates because even though the kids who consume them will never even notice or care about the label (or as my husband points out, might actually throw it away since I can only get dark chocolate minis), I just cannot give my money to Hershey or any other objectionable chocolate manufacturer. But it is expensive! And frustratingly difficult to find. For the life of me I cannot figure out why there isn’t more marketing of mini-chocolates around Halloween. Instead there is marketing of “reverse trick-or-treating” in which you get a kit with fair trade mini-chocolates stuck onto postcards, and then as your kids go trick-or-treating they hand these chocolates and postcards to the people handing out candy. When I have a kid who goes trick-or-treating, I’ll probably do this, but for now all I can do is put my money where my mouth is for the candy I give out. I very much encourage anyone who does have a trick-or-treater at home to consider reverse trick-or-treating. You can search for it online to find kits (Equal Exchange and Global Exchange do it, and there may be others).

Posted September 19, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, fair trade, food

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A Warning When Ordering Plants by Mail   Leave a comment

This morning I spent a few hours volunteering with the American River Parkway Foundation to pull some of the many red sesbania seedlings that have sprouted in this ideal-condition year. In Sacramento red sesbania (aka scarlett wisteria or rattlebox) is an invasive plant, and several years ago when the American River Parkway was surveyed for invasive plants it was tied for #1 worst invasive that is eradicable (tied with Spanish broom, I think). I started volunteering in 2005 a few times a year in this eradication effort, and it is absolutely awesome seeing the progress. Back then the pond at William Pond Rec Area was completely surrounded by a near monoculture of red sesbania all around the banks and on the islands, whereas now it’s a beautiful mixture of plants, many of which are native, with some red sesbania hot spots and a seed bank that will take many years to eliminate.

I often forget that not everyone knows what an invasive species is. The brief definition is that it is any species that is not native to a region, and that disrupts the native ecosystem after it is introduced. Think pigs and goats that were introduced by settlers on many islands (like Hawaii) that went feral and have decimated native bird populations or eliminated some native plant species. Or think zebra mussels in the Great Lakes that cause damage to boats and block up water treatment plant intakes. Or think the water hyacinth that is so popular in aquariums but that is clogging parts of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Or salt cedar along the Rio Grande, or buckthorn in Michigan… Plants that are considered invasive often outcompete the natives by sprouting more seedlings, or sprouting earlier in the year, or just not having any natural predators that eat them and keep them in check. That can result in monocultures where there are large areas filled with only one plant. Plant monocultures can reduce animal diversity as well if some of the native animals cannot eat or make shelter from that particular plant.

Today I learned that while nurseries in Sacramento no longer sell red sesbania, people order it online to plant in their gardens. (It is considered a “pretty” plant.) With the exception of seeds for vegetable gardens, I didn’t know it was particularly common to buy plants online. That makes the education effort almost impossible! It is hard enough to get nurseries to stop selling these plants, but if people can and do bypass the nurseries and buy online without checking if a plant is a problem, then many species may never be eradicated or even reduced to non-problem status. Remember that these plants (and animals) live in balance in their native ecosystems, and in many other parts of the world they will also be kept in check naturally; it is just in some regions where they become invasive. So I do my part here to encourage anyone/everyone to become familiar with the names of some major invasive species in their localities, and to check before buying something that it is not a problem plant. It can take some searching to find an up-to-date list, but it seems that many master gardener programs have a link that eventually leads to information on species invasive to that state or you could just do a web search. In California the California Invasive Plant Counsel provides a very detailed inventory.


Posted August 13, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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The Tomato Sauce Aisle Struggle   2 comments

Tomato sauce and I don’t have the greatest of relationships. I don’t ever remember putting tomato sauce on my pasta. From my earliest memories I would put a pile of spaghetti on one side of the plate, a barrier of vegetables across the plate, and the tomato sauce and meatballs on the other side (or even in a separate bowl). My preference for pizza is little to no tomato sauce; olive oil, pesto, and tomatillo sauce work just as well for me! When I met my husband the fact that he prided himself on doctoring up and improving tomato sauce (and that was almost the limit of his cooking at the time) ran head-long into my aversion to the stuff. Over the last few years we’ve struck a compromise by cooking with tomato sauce in “caserole” dishes and vegetables, and kept pasta separate. And usually he buys the sauce so I don’t have to think about it.

It’s good that he buys it because when it is on my shopping list I usually spend several minutes standing in front of the tomato sauce shelves unable to make a decision. Especially living in “the Big Tomato” as Sacramento/the Central Valley is sometimes referred to, it seems like buying locally produced tomato sauce should be the best choice. There should be no need to buy Italian or East Coast imports, right? And generic brands don’t indicate where they were grown/made. But most of the sauces that are grown/made in California are more pricey artisan sauces. Usually I would easily chose the artisan sauce, but it’s really hard to pay more money for something you don’t even like.

Recently, though I found myself saying “that was absolutely delicious” after eating a tomato sauce based dish that was made with a generic brand organic tomato sauce. So long story short, this shouldn’t be a conundrum for me. Just get the generic organic sauce and forget about artisan sauces that I don’t appreciate; and acknowledge that it just doesn’t actually make sense to buy local in this case. I wonder how long it will take to convince myself of that?

Posted July 15, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, food, shopping

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Peace Depends On You Too   Leave a comment

This is what we venture to say to you our brethren, to you men of this world who in any way are in control of its destiny, to you, men of command, men of culture, men of business: you must give to your action a strong and wise orientation towards Peace. Peace has need of you. If you want to, you can succeed. Peace depends also and especially on you.

Pope Paul VI, message on the World Day for Peace, 1974

Posted January 31, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, quotes

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From BPA to BPS   Leave a comment

This past November news came out that the BPA-free receipt paper currently being marketed may be no better or only slightly better than the receipt paper containing BPA (bisphenyl A). The new receipt paper is made using bisphenyl S, which is a slightly less potent hormone mimicking compound that is more persistent and less studied.

I’ve been waiting for this shoe to fall on the whole BPA thing. From the very beginning the conversation has been very frustrating to me and I’ve tried to stay out of it because it has been almost entirely focussed on one chemical, and not the class of chemicals. It’s been frustrating seeing “BPA-free” plastic hailed as green with no regard for the fact that plastics contain other problematic chemicals as well. It’s been frustrating seeing environmental organizations talk only about the concerns with BPA without also educating the public about estrogenic activity in general. There were a few refreshing bits of fresh air (like the Sigg water bottle issue, where one of the concerns voiced online was that they are only testing or releasing results for the new lining for BPA, not estrogenic activity), but it has been a very focussed campaign.

So when I read the news about the new receipt paper, I had a bittersweet laugh. Laughter because that’s my response to everything (I’m one of those people who can’t suppress the giggles at funerals, or in response to uncomfortable statements), and this inevitable news deserved it. Bittersweet because it is a big deal and something needs to be done, but really, are we going to take a couple of years to make grassroots campaigns to eliminate all of the thousands of harmful chemicals ONE AT A TIME? That’s why we need to incorporate the Precautionary Principle into our systems. That’s why we need to pass the Safe Chemicals Act (It was introduced in the Senate in April 2010 and currently is in committee).

This is not the first time in our history that we’ve replaced something with a more “environmentally-friendly” alternative to later find that the replacement is very environmentally unfriendly. One great example is MTBE, which was added to gasoline when lead was removed. Unfortunately, MTBE is very mobile in the subsurface and now large plumes of MTBE contamination in groundwater are common around fueling facilities with leaking tanks or spill histories. In the BPA/BPS issue, the thing that stands out the most to me is that BPS is more persistent. Persistency is just what it sounds like. It means that the chemical will be around in the environment for along time because, for whatever reason, it is difficult or slow to degrade/denature it. For example: pesticides that were banned in the US decades ago but that are still detected in some places in soil and animal tissue.

Posted January 3, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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SRI Is Not All Negative   Leave a comment

I recently read a magazine article that mentioned and dismissed SRI on the grounds that negative screens aren’t a good tool for finding good investments (in all senses of the word). I am so sick of seeing and hearing SRI dismissed as useless because people only think it involves negative screening! Or I’ll have someone tell me that SRI funds invest in Wal-Mart (or whatever), proving that they’re no different from any other fund. Yes, they do invest in Wal-Mart (or whatever), so that they can engage in shareholder activism.

For those not familiar with the terms, SRI means socially responsible investing or sustainable & responsible investing.  It is essentially based on the theory that companies that do good (or don’t do bad), do well financially in the long term. It is also based on the theory that as part-owners, investors have a responsibility to push companies in a positive direction. This usually revolves around social, environmental, and corporate governance issues. There are three basic strategies to SRI: negative screens, positive screens, and shareholder advocacy.

Negative screening means excluding companies that do not meet a specific criteria. For example, there are funds that exclude companies involved in tobacco or weapons manufacture. Or divestment strategies like the one used to help bring about the end of apartheid in South Africa, where investors stopped investing in companies that supported the apartheid.

Positive screening means including only companies that meet specific criteria. For example, investing only in companies that have effective pollution prevention programs or that have good health and safety track records. Some funds invest only in companies involved in renewable energy, or companies demonstrating gender equality around the world.

Shareholder advocacy means using the power of part-ownership to push for change. Shareholders can introduce and vote on shareholder resolutions. I’m not well versed in the rules for such things, but apparently if a shareholder resolution wins as little as 10-20% of the vote that is usually enough to cause the company’s management to address the issue. Shareholder resolutions can be about things like preparing a greenhouse gas inventory, limiting executive compensation, or promoting diversity.

Personally, I just invest in a couple of funds that use SRI strategies since I’m not comfortable getting into individual stock investments with my limited knowledge (and time). There are lots of options, and you don’t have to sacrifice financial returns. The green fund in my retirement plan at work is recovering from the recession more strongly than the other funds in the plan. It really is possible to have your cake and eat it too. Check out the Social Investment Forum for more info.

Posted November 24, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, conscious living, money

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Green America Airline Recycling Survey   Leave a comment

In early 2010, Green America’s Responsible Shopper published a report about recycling in the airline industry. The results were pretty sad. In general the airlines aren’t consistent or comprehensive with their recycling efforts. I can’t say that I am really very surprised. I remember many years ago there was a short period of time during which flight attendants would carry two bags when they collected trash, one for trash, and one for cans/bottles/papers. Then that stopped happening. After that I started keeping any recyclable trash and carrying it into the airport myself to recycle when I got off of the plane since I wasn’t comfortable assuming that the trash was being sorted behind the scenes. Most airports are pretty good about having recycling receptacles in the terminal for passengers, at least. Eventually, I got my steel water bottle and now I bring that (empty) to the airport, fill it from a water fountain after security, and drink from that on the plane. On short trips I decline a drink onboard to reduce the waste of the cup and napkin. For long trips, though, my water bottle is not enough and it is nice to get some ice.

The report is an interesting read, and helped put some context on a few things. I had noticed that on Southwest flights when you ask for water they don’t give you a small bottle, but give you a cup instead. Apparently Southwest switched to canned water because the cans are easiest to recycle. It’s true, from a container material perspective aluminum is at the top of the pile. Aluminum is lightweight, easy to recycle (just melt and go), and can be recycled into another can. Glass next because it is also easy to recycle (grind, melt and go), and can be recycled into another bottle. Glass is heavy, though. Plastic is at the bottom because it is hard to recycle (can’t just melt and go), and can only downcycle. You cannot make another bottle out of the plastic.

Back to Green America’s report. Since they put out the report, they have been doing a survey of the experiences of airline passengers. So last weekend on my flights (well, two of the four) to and from Boston, I asked the flight attendants about whether they would be recycling stuff. When I got home I filled out the web form to submit the answers I got. At the end of the year Green America is going to put out an updated report with the results of the survey.

On my flights the flight attendants said that they do recycle cans, bottles, and paper. Everything except papers went into the plastic trash bags, but since they didn’t serve any bottles or cans (just cups) I guess it was all “trash”. I did notice that they would tuck a newspaper under an arm instead of putting it in the trash bag, so I guess that is evidence that the paper really is recycled. On one of the flights the flight attendant was separating out the cups and stacking them in her hand. I asked if they recycle the cups and she said that they don’t, but she stacks them separately so that they take up less room. That way the flight trash fits into a couple fewer bags, thus reducing the number of bags they go through. I could only wish all flight attendants followed that logic!

Posted November 4, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, environment, travel

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Voting is Just Step One   1 comment

I hope everyone voted today (or by today). One of the things that I think is absolutely crucial for conscious living is being responsible. That includes personal, employment, and societal responsibilities; where the pertinant responsibility today is our civic responsiblity to vote. Democracy doesn’t work without active participants. And to be an active citizen, casting an educated vote is only the first step.

The next step is to speak up the other 364 days of the year. When there is an issue that matters to you, send a message to your representatives (email is best and super easy). They aren’t mass mind readers, so you have to speak up. Some organizations draft messages on major issues that you can sign and email (personally, I prefer to tweak the text before I put my name to it). Sign up for the newsletter so that you know what your legislators are up to and when they’ll be holding meetings in your area. At my old address I was signed up for newsletters from the state and federal legislators for my district. I haven’t yet signed up for newsletters in my new district, but now that I’ve reminded myself here I will be doing so.

Posted November 2, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, conscious living

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