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Monthly Archives: August 2007

So I just watched the documentary Wal-Mart – The High Cost of Low Price. For most of it I sat, literally, with my mouth hanging open. I mean, I don’t live in a vacuum, I knew that there were problems with them. Everyone in Canada heard about the Jonquiere, Quebec, store closing down after the employees managed to get a union in there. They get a bad rating all over the Better World Shopping Guide. But I had no idea just how bad it was.

This is the largest and richest company in the world. They treat their employees terribly, paying minimum wage, keeping as many as they possibly can as part time, fudging time sheets so that employees never receive overtime payment (by either removing any overtime hours worked or moving overtime hours to the next week). They have a class action suits against them for treating women associates poorly. They have factories in China with inhumane working conditions, $3/day wage where workers work 7 days/week for 15 hours/day. (There are similar Wal-Mart factories all over the place. Sweat shops in Bangladesh, Mexico…) The are constantly receiving subsidies to open new stores, to the tune of over a billion dollars. In the U.S. there are over 26 million square feet of empty Wal-Marts – the stores they built and abandoned before or after a brief stint in them. They have fines all over the states from the EPA regarding clean water act violations. They open stores on the outskirts of small towns and the downtown streets become like a ghost town because they close down all of the mom and pop retailers within 6 months or so. The fact list goes on and on… (and there’s another fact list here.)

For those who respect Wal-Mart for different reasons (e.g. because when they work with the supplier to make sure that they can meet their needs), pick up the film and watch it. And tell me you still respect them in the morning. Oh, and have a look at the article on them from Fast Company or another good article from Harper’s.

The number of times I’ve been into a Wal-Mart store I can count on one hand. It’s going to stay that way. My conscience can’t afford to give them any more money.

Oh, and FYI, Sam’s Club is a part of Wal-Mart, as is ASDA in the UK.

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We use cloth diapers. But occasionally when we leave town for more than a couple of days and won’t have laundry facilities we have to use disposables (and if I can, I take them home to our green bin to avoid landfilling them). When we do, I usually just go and buy the no name type (the name brands are just too perfumey for me). But we have a trip coming up and now that I’m in green mode I can’t help but look into the issues with everything (and my mom just bought me Ecoholic as an early birthday present – great book).

With disposable diapers, it’s mostly the problem of landfill (5000-7000 diapers per child – about 1.8 billion diapers per year (2011 update: sorry, the link to the asac.ab.ca article is no longer online) in Canada alone). The other problems include the fact that most are bleached, which contributes to the creation of dioxin (very, very toxic); the fact that most people don’t flush the poop before they landfill the diapers, so landfills are being filled with raw sewage, which they’re not equipped to deal with and can result in groundwater contamination; and a possible link to asthma. They also contain perfumes and plastics (the absorbent gel).

So, when we have to use disposables, from now on they’ll be Tushies which are chemical-free, fragrance-free, chlorine-free, and gel-free.

… don’t buy it from Esso/Exxon/Imperial Oil!

There’s a lot of reasons, including these (from www.exxposeexxon.com):

ExxonMobil is the ONLY major oil company:
  • Denying the urgency of global warming and funding front groups and think tanks that mislead the public about global warming and delay crucial action;
  • Refusing to invest in clean, renewable energy that will reduce consumer energy costs, lessen America’s oil dependence, decrease air pollution and health care costs, and curb global warming;
  • Still a member of Arctic Power, the single-issue lobby group trying to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • ExxonMobil has still not paid the punitive damages it owes for the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill! So far, 6,000 fisherman and others harmed by the devastating spill have died awaiting compensation.

There’s also information from Greenpeace, Amnesty International(regarding their human rights abuses), and ExxonSecrets.org. They are rock bottom on the list of gasoline companies in the Better World Shopping Guide, the only company to receive an “F”, a category reserved for companies  that are actively participating in the rapid destruction of the planet and the exploitation of human beings. There are plenty more references to their general badness, but I don’t want to bore you…

Also, biofuels have been touted the answer to our gas addiction woes, but (from The Guardian):

Increasing production of biofuels to combat climate change will release between two and nine times more carbon gases over the next 30 years than fossil fuels, according to the first comprehensive analysis of emissions from biofuels.

Yikes.

Anywho, my change today is no more Esso gas.

I ordered a pizza tonight, thinking that it was a fine delivery choice since you can recycle the box. But then I was looking at then menu and I got a craving for wings, so I ordered some. Then it arrived and they had thrown in a caesar salad for free. So my “recyclable packaged delivery food” became anything but, with the wings in styro and the salad in non-recyclable (in Toronto) molded plastic packaging.

The moral of the story? Don’t do delivery, Lynn. Just take your tiffin boxes out to the places you want to order food from and get your take-out waste-free. Ugh, it irks me every time I see that my garbage bag (since we got the tiffin boxes, we half-fill 1 bag every 2 weeks) is full…

So, no more delivery.

Last week, my uncle asked me, “What’s the problem with plastics?” Well, there are many…

The major problems include:

1. They will be around a lot longer than we will, but no one is really sure how long plastics will take to break down (and they’ll never fully biodegrade) since the first plastic was only invented in 1855, with mass production only within the last century.

2. Recycling plastic isn’t as simple as recycling glass or aluminum, as the various polymers tend to separate out like oil and water when melted. There’s a good explanation of this in wikipedia, but it’s pretty technical. Biodegradable plastics exacerbate the issue because if they’re mixed in with other plastics, the recycled plastic will be damaged and have reduced value. The Green Guide has (had, in 2007) an article on #3 PVC plastic and how it’s pretty much impossible to recycle, along with all of the other problems with it.

3. Plastic production is non-renewable resource intensive and uses “potentially harmful chemicals, which are added as stabilisers or colorants. Many of these have not undergone environmental risk assessment.” (from Action for Sustainable Living)

These are all big issues, but as a mom, the third one is huge for me. Dioxins are released in the manufacture and incineration of plastics. The following, to varying degrees and from various types of plastic, can leach into food and drink: phthalates (many problems, including being an estrogen mimic), Bisphenol A (BPA, a hormone disruptor), and antimony (antimony poisoning is like arsenic poisoning). As for manufacturing, The Green Guide’s product report (2011 update: they’re no longer doing product reports) says “producing a 16-oz. PET bottle generates more than 100 times the toxic emissions to air and water than making the same size bottle out of glass.” Yes, PET is lighter and costs less to transport, but at that cost (plus the recycling issue)? No thanks.

I can’t remember where I read it and consequently have no referring link (update Aug 22/07: it could have been this from EWG) but I read earlier today that the biggest leachy culprit is cans, which are lined with a plastic (epoxy). Great… now I have to start canning my own tomatoes (the beans I can deal with – you just need to plan for them the night before. And we don’t do canned soup so the biggie for us is tomatoes).

So, what does this mean for me personally? Earlier this week I picked up 4 stainless steel Klean Kanteens, 1 for each member of the family. They have an adapter that will fit Avent sippy cup lids which works out well since that’s the pump I own (small miracles: neither of my boys took to bottle feeding, but we’re still trying with #2) and Avent Baby Bottles are on the AVOID list (2011: no longer online) from The Green Guide (a good list to look at – it includes good and bad plastics and plastic alternatives).

I’ve also been slowly replacing all of my plastic tupperware (and similar) containers with Corningware and Anchor Hocking glassware. My mom asked me what I’m going to do with all those plastic containers (because many aren’t recyclable and I don’t just want to create more landfill). I’m repurposing them to non food uses. Once the boys are a bit older, they’ll be excellent for crafty bits. For now I’m finding odd uses for them around the house.

I’m also getting rid of all of the plastic infant toys we have (1 was bought by me, the rest were gifts or hand-me-downs. We’re more of a wooden toy sort of family…) but more on that another day.

licence plate

Okay, so this isn’t the reason that it will be green, but it’s an interesting incentive at the very least (alternatively just a stupid empty election promise ploy). Read the story in the Toronto Star.

From the article:

Climate-conscious motorists who pilot a Prius or scoot around in a Smart car could find themselves parking for free or passing in the car-pool lane under an aggressive new incentive program unveiled today in Canada’s most polluted province.

By this time next year, provided Ontario’s Liberal government is re-elected in October, Ontario residents who buy environmentally friendly, low-emission cars and trucks would get a green-hued licence plate that entitles them to such possible perks as free parking and access to high-capacity commuter lanes.

But seriously, here’s some information on car emissions. And a link to information about hybrid cars.

The green guide (from National Geographic) has product reports (update in 2011: not anymore!) which tell you about the problems and solutions regarding a vast array of product categories. Nail polish is on the list. As it’s summer, I figure it’s pertinent because although I don’t wear make-up on a regular basis (maybe twice a year), I do like to colour my toenails in the summer. Nail polish, though, is one of the nastiest products on the cosmetics market, because (among other reasons) our nails are so porous and things absorbed through them go straight into the blood stream, and many ingredients in nail polish are toxic. Yikes.

(Update in 2011: The only relevant thing I can quickly find on the NationalGeo site on nail polish is here.)

Also, the Environmental Working Group‘s Cosmetic Safety Database has a list of nail polishes and their hazard rating, as well as whether they do animal testing or have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.

Hence, no more nail polish.