Star Power

By Susan Lutz

Looking up to the sky, I seem so small. “100 Billion Galaxies each with 100 Billion Stars,” said Carl Sagan in the Cosmos episode 7, “The Backbone of Night.”

The power of his message grew with the rise of his own star. Today, many stars lend their voice to our star, planet earth, in hopes of fixing the mess we find ourselves in.

That smallness continues as the dawn breaks, I look around, and wonder how we can do anything to create change. We’re choking on plastic, dumping toxins in rivers, and spewing harmful gasses into the atmosphere. This is just the short list. Again, I look to the stars.

There are a lot of people doing important, tough work for our environment. I’d have to Google their names though because I can’t remember them. The moment a star, a film or literary or political star, begins talking about the environment – that I remember. I sit up and listen, or at least pause, when a star speaks about the work we need to do concerning the environment.

The reality is, a familiar face brings attention to the issue. Leonard DiCapprio spoke to the Pope about the environment. He has his own foundation called, The Leonard DiCapprio Foundation, dedicated to protecting the world’s last wild places. Julia Roberts is Mother Nature in a gorgeous, short video, “Nature is Speaking.”

Woody Harrelson hosts “Ethos,” a documentary looking “into the flaws in our systems, and the mechanisms that work against democracy, our environment and the common good.” Jeff Bridges narrates the video for the Plastic Pollution Coalition, “Open Your Eyes.”

Either I am starry-eyed or I am truly hearing the important message these spokespersons relate. After I saw the video narrated by Jeff Bridges, I felt nauseas at all the plastic I used. And I consider myself an aware person. Though the practice could seem cliché, I see a twinkle of light and hope as perhaps the message breaks through the atmosphere or our messy minds for just a moment. And funny, after hanging with Julia, Leonardo, Woody, Jeff, and even Carl, I feel like a bit of a bigger star. I feel inspired to do more, to and to help, even if it is the smallest of things.

 

 

 

Actions Around the World – Issues to Keep Up with and Watch for the Coming Year

By Susan Lutz

Over the past weeks and months, ideas that began at the grassroots movements finally found movement forward in actions by governments and organizations. As consumers who are opening our eyes, becoming more aware, and utilizing our voices to take action, let’s take a moment to absorb the success and change that has happened so far. Here are a few of the big ones:

1. Microbeads Banned – Those tiny microbeads clogging up the waterways and reeking havoc on the ecosystem were finally banned by the U.S. government. The President signed the bill in late December:

“H.R. 1321, the “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015,” which prohibits the manufacture and introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads…”

2. FDA Issues New Safety Rules: Strides were made with the new FDA standards for farmers. Some farms will be able to coordinate efforts – a victory seen for small farmers and the reality of modern day food growers. Food safety plans must be implemented, and again, smaller farmers will be given the ability to provide smaller plans, a much more realistic goal.

3. France Bars Big Supermarkets from Throwing Out Food: Legislation in France is banning large supermarket chains from throwing out food and is instead enforcing food donations to local charities. Though not the answer to the seed level issue, the act provides some relief to the problem of food shortages and food waste in the country – something to watch and learn from and a good model for other countries.

4. United States Fish and Wildlife Reclassifies Hunting: The USFW put out a report in December 2015 concerning the classification of animals as endangered. Lions in West and Central Africa will now be considered “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. Lions from other parts of Africa, such as in the south and east, will be regarded as threatened. What does this mean for trophy hunters? For one thing, importing lion body parts will be prohibited. And this is a huge part of the bragging rights of a trophy hunter. The effects these changes have on the population and treatment of lions will need to be monitored. Yet, perhaps it’s a step in awareness plus…

As we roll into 2016, what more can we do? Banning microbeads is important, but yet again, at the seed level how was this allowed in the first place? Without question, there will be so much to watch for in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

Just One Word: Plastics

At times it feels we’re just doomed to suffer in the toxic choices of our every day lives.

By Susan Lutz

I snapped the glow stick. The green, fluorescent light lit the way – the kids on Halloween safer because of the glow. The plastic glass I bought for my son this summer had the Minions on it. If I put it in the freezer, it would keep the contents cold long through the summer day. At times, it feels as if everything is toxic; everything is plastic. At times it feels we’re just doomed to suffer in the toxic choices of our every day lives.

There isn’t a day that passes by that I don’t feel guilty about a dangerous, toxic, or bad-for-me product our family consumes or uses. We occasionally buy water in plastic bottles. I go to the grocery store and sometimes forget my cloth reusable bags. After a few weeks, I’m stunned at the pile of plastic bags in the corner. I dutifully recycle my paper, plastics, and metals, yet I know recycling isn’t a solution, just a band-aid to a bigger problem.

So many of our conveniences trace back to our love of plastics. I recently watched The Graduate again and was stunned by the accuracy and the irony of the iconic line said to Benjamin as he debated what to do with his future:

I want to say one word to you. Just one word…Plastics.

The benefits of plastics and many other chemically based products made in our society are far reaching. Medical, educational, and at-home use of plastics grew leaps and bounds: think bags for blood transfusions, the parts in computers, the covers on our phones, the stuff that holds pens together, the fibers in our clothes, and so on…..

How do we turn things around? Just passing the tetra boxes in the grocery store makes me sad. I wonder if it’s impossible to change the course we’re on. I can’t predict what we’ll do to our planet, and ourselves, but I can obtain peace of mind and enough good habits to overall lessen my carbon footprint and instead chip away at improving our lives and obtaining a better balance of our existence.

What if we all used plastics less than we did the day before? I reuse glass bottles as my daily water bottles when out and about. Though not perfect (they sometimes break!), I feel it’s a tiny step I want to take in reducing my own personal toxic footprint on the planet.

I forgive myself when I don’t make it – when I forget to recycle or when I buy face paint with lead in it for Halloween. (I threw it out and made a DIY face paint from zinc oxide and chlorophyll!). But more times than I fail, I succeed. I’ll remember next year how to make the green face paint. As the end of the year and the holiday rolls around, I’ll buy less. And I see wonderful strides in our community. I see vegetable trays at children’s gatherings and a lot less candy floating around. If we all bought plastic water bottles once in a while or used the same computer two extra years, we’d make a huge dent in reducing the toxicity in our environment.

Make choices knowing that they make a long, long impact on our planet. Now, there’s just one word we must think about. One word to take us to our new level: consciousness.

 

 

 

Kill the K-Cup Before It Kills Us

By Susan Lutz

In the hospital, I waited for my son to get out of a simple procedure; we’d be home by the end of the day. I looked at the counter, hoping for some coffee. And, there it was. Packaged. Flavor injected. Plastic. The K-cup – the new, killer coffee that’s killing the coffee with its convenient, single-serving delivery system. Coffee drinkers loaded up and bought them, about 9 billion a year, filling a need we didn’t even know we had.2014-05-05_08-23-18_258

Billions of cups mean billions of little plastic, worthless-after-one use, go-in-the-trash cups. And the cost doesn’t seem to matter. Folgers coffee, in one of those K-cups, measures out to $50.00 a serving. For a few years, I owned a coffee shop; I wasn’t making that kind of margin. Even the priciest of coffees from the most exotic of places doesn’t garner that price.

The profit is not going to the farmers either. Is the coffee organic? Fair trade? Mostly no, though suppliers are putting out organic and fair trade. Our desire for this product is insatiable. I spent time with the people working the coffee fields. It’s a tough life. Many do not have medical coverage, are exposed to chemicals and treated poorly. Many are women and children. We love our coffee. We treat it almost as if it is a right rather than a privilege. Before the hospital waiting room, I had never seen these machines in action. I thought they were a IMG_0209luxury. But, I lived in Central America where most things are luxuries, including roofs that don’t leak and enough food to feed a family.

An hour went by as I waited for my son. I was hungry and the coffee looked so tempting. I put the K-cup into the spot, pushed a button and got just water. I walked down the hall to the bathroom and dumped out the water. I tried again and got the worst coffee I’d ever tasted. I went to the bathroom and dumped it out. When I threw away the little cup, I felt miserable. I had no coffee, I was in a hospital, and now I just added to the billions of little, non-recyclable trash mounding in landfills.

There’s a campaign to KILLTHEKCUP with a pretty intense video about the destruction of our planet from the killer K-cup. I saw an interview with Kevin Sullivan, chief technology officer at Keurig Green Mountain, maker of coffee machines on CBS Sunday Morning. He said the company was beginning to find ways to make the product recycle by 2020:

“We’ve been hard at work to solve that problem,” said Sullivan. “We introduced a system called Vue that has cups that are, in fact, recyclable. We have a company objective that everything will be recyclable by the year 2020. We certainly aren’t going to wait that long. I think we’re going to start that much sooner, and hopefully convert sooner than that.”

I was stunned. By 2020 the company will have little plastic k-cups that are recyclable? Do the math. Let’s say, for simplicity, 9 billion cups are sold a year, starting in 2015 and going until 2019 (we’ll just ignore the damage already done and we’ll ignore growth or decline in sales):

2014-05-05_09-23-31_4959 billion x 5 = 45 billion little, useless plastic cups filling up our needs to get something quick, fast, and with no regard for others. Getting the k-cup recyclable is, in this day and age, a non-negotiable item. But why after the fact? Why not create the product with some consciousness before the damage is done? Did Kevin Sullivan ever hear of climate change? We cause climate change in every choice we make. It’s not just the billowing smoke from factory smoke stacks. It’s us, our decisions to use or reuse or to choose sustainable with our spending power. There’s plenty of other single serving machines out there that cost the same or less than the Keurig coffee system. Are we that tight for time we can’t spend another minute tamping down a bit of coffee in a reusable machine?

My son and I went home. He was sleepy, but up and playing like little kids do by early evening. I made a cup of coffee when I got home, a single, grounds-only, cup of coffee. It was worth the wait.

End the Use of the Tiny, Terrible Microbead

By Susan Lutz

microbeadsScrub some natural face cleanser on at the end of the day. Feels wonderful. A shea butter body cream can only be good, right? Read the ingredients. Many of the cosmetics on the shelf today contain microbeads. What’s a microbead? I hadn’t heard of them either. Yet, they are now so proliferate in many of the products we use, approximately 69 NGOs from 33 countries are supporting the campaign to end the use of the microbead, according to beatthemicrobead.org.

What exactly is a microbead? Imagine a teeny, tiny bead of plastic. Now, image something smaller. Microbeads replace more natural ingredients, especially in health and body care products like scrubs, creams, and toothpaste. The tiny beads, less then 1mm, are composed of polyethylene, polypropylene, polymethyl methacrylate, or nylon, in short, plastic. Use a microbead for seconds, rinse, and it goes down the drain to stay in the environment forever. The cycle of water pulls the plastic fibers all the way to the oceans. They don’t break down. Instead, they mush into plastic-like goo; floating, unnoticed by a fish that eats a smaller fish – tasty, yet environmentally deadly. Catch the bigger fish and the contaminant ends up back on our table, in our mouths. See anyone pick up a tiny piece of plastic on the ground and eat it? That’s exactly what’s happening.

How did this happen? And, right under our nose? All of these ingredients are approved and “safe” to use. Safe bet companies are making money on the short-term benefit of making a product cheaper, getting it on the shelf quicker, and selling more than we really need. Natural ingredients take more time, most likely more investment – in the short run. (And, I’m not even talking about organic ingredients yet, just “natural” like putting in more real shea butter instead of cutting the real product with these tiny plastic beads.)

Step in a movement to end those tiny, terrible microbeads. Like so many other products we discover for the quick, availability and cheaper price, we buy it: plastic bags, the k-cup, or processed food. The ramifications of our choices always, not sometimes, but always come back to bite us in the bags and beads. Without seeing the long-term effect before we eat too much sugar or throw all or allow GMO modification of our food, we suffer the consequences of our choices and have to work to not only end the use of the danger, but also find ways to reinvent how to educate, make healthy choices, and show our children things like tiny microbeads just are a bad decision.

A movement has started to ban the microbead. Annie Leonard, founder of The Story of Stuff, began an idea to look at our prolific use of stuff. Her animated movies are short, great for anyone – I’ve showed them to my kids – and poignant. She’s always working on a solution. Pointing out the problem is one thing, doing something about yet another. Learn what products carry microbeads and stop using them. Check out sites that offer more information on microbeads and how to join a campaign to ban the bead.

So, let’s get started, below is a list of companies and products as posted from beatthemicrobead.org that contain microbeads. You can get the full list, for many countries, on their site.

A few examples of products with microbeads as listed by beathemicrobead.org:

Ahava: Dead Sea Essentials-Relaxing Almond Exfoliating Body Cleanser – Polyethylene (PE)

CVS Pharmacy: Oil Free Scrub – Polyethylene (PE)

Neutrogena/Johnson & Johnson: Deep clean gentle Scrub (oil free) – Polyethylene (PE)

Note the brands; be familiar with the all the chemical names of the microbead. Changing brands, really going natural or organic is a choice not just for better skin or whiter teeth, but a choice that makes a difference for our children and our planet.

#1446: Happy Greengiving

Holiday-Greengiving-tmsog copy

It’s that time of year again, when consumerism and family collide into what we call the holiday season. To help you incorporate sustainable choices into your gift giving, decorations and food, we’ve invited Elissa Olin from Green in BKLYN, Ashley Spivak from Clean Plates and Eva Radke of Film Biz Recycling to share their tips and ideas. greeninbklyn.com, cleanplates.com & filmbizrecycling.org

#1404: Emellie O’Brien, Founder of Earth Angel

Emillee-OBrian-Earth-Angel-TMSOGMeet Emellie O’Brien, founder of Earth Angel, a company that provides sustainability management of film and TV productions. Emellie is a pioneer in this burgeoning field, as she coaxes everyone on the set, from directors to grips, to be more eco-conscious. She has worked on the films Noah and The Amazing Spiderman 2, as well as the hit HBO show Girls. To find out more about Earth Angel visit www.earthangelnyc.com