Ecology Corner

Screen Your Sunscreen

An oily appearance on the surface of pool and lake water is a common sight. In lakes, this sheen may be due primarily to watercraft fuels and lubricants. But in pools, sunscreen may be the culprit. It is estimated about ten million pounds of sunscreen pollutes water bodies world wide. Chemicals and oils found in sunscreens have the potential to impact aquatic life, particularly sensitive ecosystems such as marine coral reefs. In response, many marine parks in Mexico ban sunscreens that are not biodegradable.

Do your part to protect our lakes and oceans, read the ingredients to find sunscreens free of artificial fragrances, synthetic preservatives, UV-absorbers, PABA, and parabens.

Keep it Cool

Here are a few ways to beat the summer heat without breaking the bank:

  • Run ceiling fans in a clockwise for a “wind-chill” effect on your skin, but turn them off when you leave the room – they circulate air, but do not cool a room.
  • Turn off lights and electronics (especially computers) when not in use so they don’t generate unnecessary heat; switch to compact fluorescent lamps which use less energy and produce less heat
  • Set your AC to a higher temp when you are away or asleep.
  • Get a cooling system tune-up; change filter regularly, remove leaves, dirt and other debris from around the outdoor components to improve air flow and efficiency
  • Seal air leaks in your duct system with foil tape or mastic; insulate ducts in crawl spaces, unfinished basements and attics
  • Seal air leaks around doors, windows, electrical outlets, and in attics, basements and crawl spaces; add insulation

Packing Peanuts

Rather than sending them to the landfill in your regular trash, drop them off at a local Pak-Mail store for donation/re-use!

Catch of the Day

Seafood provides numerous health benefits, but mercury and PCB’s (used historically in oil and paint) are of primary concern for human consumption. Higher on the food chain, fish like sturgeon, salmon, shark and marlin, are likely to have accumulated more toxins in their bodies through their diet. Bottom feeders, such as invertebrates like scallops, oysters, crabs and crayfish or bony fish like catfish, flounder, cod, halibut, haddock and sole, may ingest more pollutants that have become incorporated in the sediment as chemicals adhere to sand and clay particles and accumulate.

Is your fresh catch or the “fish of the day” at your favorite restaurant a safe bet? Check the Environmental Defense Fund’s Health alert chart.

Energy

Currently, Indiana is one of the top ten users of energy per capita in the United States. The U.S. and world demand for energy is projected to rise over the next two decades, while the raw materials for energy production will peak and begin to decline, costing Indiana an estimated additional $7 billion dollars to import electricity. Energy conservation and efficiency efforts need to begin now! Investment in new technology through GE and other Indiana corporations will create jobs and allow money to be reinvested locally. Chart your own energy use and see how conservation can offset rising costs.

Internet Suffering Again?

Companies such as Google operate multi-million square foot warehouses filled with servers that run the search engine. Google’s half million servers consume $2million in electricity per month! Additionally, these units release an enormous amount of heat into the air, which must be cooled by AC. Mining the coal to create the electricity causes air and water pollution, therefore, every internet search done impacts the ecosystem.

As developing nations become more tech savvy and use of iPads and iPhones grows, the problem will be exacerbated. Think before you search!

Gas Tips

Fill up in the early morning when the ground temperature is coolest and gasoline is densest. As the day warms, gasoline expands, and you get less for your dollar.
Set the nozzle trigger on the slowest delivery to minimize fuel you’re paying for to be lost as vapors. Vapor recovery systems on hoses send the vapor back to the station’s storage tank where it re-condenses to fuel.

Fill up when your tank is half full to minimize the space available for evaporation. Additionally, letting your tank run low may permit settled solids to enter your fuel line and reduce engine efficiency.

Do not fill up if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks. The solids/”dirt” in the tank are stirred up as the gas is being delivered.

Appliances

When you buy an appliance, you pay more than just the sales price – you commit yourself to paying the cost of running that appliance for as long as you own it. For example, running a refrigerator for 15-20 years costs as much as the initial purchase price of the unit.

Next time you are comparing appliances, look at the Energy Guide label and calculate the Life-Cycle Cost. Life Cycle Cost = Initial Cost + (Annual Operating Cost x Years of Operation)

Coffee

Coffee is the world’s second-most valuable legal commodity after oil, with environmental and social impacts to match. More than 1.9 million tons of paper and plastic cups and plates are produced, transported, and disposed of each year in the U.S. Stop the waste; use your own mug. Despite needing to wash it, you’ll produce 30 times less solid waste and 60 times less air pollution if you used disposable paper or foam cups. Also, stir up some positive change by switching to organic and Fair Trade-labeled brands.

Junk Mail

Put a stop to “junk mail”. The junk mail industry destroys about 100 million trees each year and its production and disposal consumes more energy than 3 million cars! Choose the mail you receive by contacting the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and registering in their Mail Preference Service. Adding your name to the do-not-mail list is easy; you can register online.

Bottled Water Truths

Bottled water manufacturers use enticing lingo to snag you for the sell. Don’t be fooled.

  • Glacial Water or Mountain Water – true to its word, but may not be a pristine site
  • Spring Water – groundwater collected as it comes to the earth’s surface; can be a manmade borehole, not necessarily a natural spring; may not have been treated
  • Artesian Water – from any underground source (no different than well water); may not have been treated
  • Purified Water – any water with extra treatment for chemical removal, but not necessarily free of pathogens
  • Mineral water – contains at least 250ppm dissolved solids (might not be USDA recommended minerals)
  • As much as 40% of bottled water sold is simply tap water.
  • To make the plastic for the bottle took up to four times as much water than is actually in the bottle.
  • It takes 1.5 million barrels of oil for the 28 billion plastic water bottles in the U.S. each year.
  • Only 16% of plastic water bottles are recycled in the US while 2.5 million water bottles are discared each hour.
  • Investigate where the water was bottled – is the long travel to your grocery adding to air pollution?

Clean Rivers

Soil that washes off construction sites, farm fields and yards and “dirt’ from streets and parking lots stays suspended in the rivers making them appear “dirty”. Keeping our land vegetated helps the rivers stay cleaner and reduces run-off that causes flooding. With just a little effort from each home and business owner we could see a dramatic difference.

Some ideas you can use: wash your car in your yard, so the grass can filter the pollutants. Bacteria in the soil will “eat” the carbon-based oils, greases and road grime. Divert your downspouts into your garden/yard where the land can absorb the rain, rather than rushing to the storm sewers. Install a rain garden on your property to filter water and keep your property hydrated (see catchingrainfw.org).

Rivers Safe From Phosphorus

In Indiana, phosphorus was banned from laundry detergents in 1973 and dishwashing detergents in 2010 to reduce the amount reaching the waterways. Phosphorous, a naturally occurring mineral from rocks, is essential for plant and animal health, but in excess can cause eutrophication and degrade water quality by reducing oxygen in the water.

What can you do?

  • Purchase low phosphorus detergents
  • Use a low or no-phosphorus fertilizer on your lawn (ensure the middle N-P-K number is zero)
  • Build or protect a rain garden or wetland which can “tie up” excess phosphorous
  • Properly maintain your septic system.

Green Shopping

Every day you can make environmentally responsible shopping choices. Beyond choosing stores that sell locally produced, Fair Trade and Organic products, make simple, quick decisions for each item you buy. Reach for bulk or “family size” for a leaner packing per product ratio. Does one brand have less or at least eco-friendly packaging? For example, for cooking, buy bouillon cubes instead of canned broth and be proud of your eco footstep as you consume a mere fraction of packaging resources, fuel for trucking transportation of the product and waste for landfill or recycling.

Environmental product labeling is often misleading and few live up to their claim. One tip: words alone seldom stand up, but often a logo usually means an authentic certification. Here are a few key words and their meaning:

  • organic – for food, this label is certified by USDA. These products are free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, animal by-products, antibiotics and sewage sludge.
  • natural – minimal processing and free of artificial preservatives and additives.
  • free-range – the animal has access to the outdoors
  • fair trade – system employs sustainable development and empowers disadvantaged producers and workers in developing countries. Independent regulating agency.

Terms such as “Natural”, “Environmentally Friendly”, “Eco-Safe”, “Green”, “Earth Friendly”, etc. are not regulated.

Look for other reputable government certifications like Certified Naturally Grown, Design for the Environment, Green Seal, Water Sense and Energy Star and independent certification such as SmaRT, Cradle to Cradle, Sustainable Forestry Initiative (paper, furniture), Rainforest Alliance and Leaping Bunny (cosmetics). All of which have set standards.

It’s All in the Bag

Americans toss away 380 billion plastic bags or wraps per year! Plastic bags, although convenient, are not economical. Millions of dollars in disposal fees are spent annually to landfill all those bags. Plus, the petroleum used in producing just 14 plastic bags is enough to drive a car one mile.

Paper bags are not a much better option, though. Although at least made from a renewable resource, the production process produces waste and air emissions. Unfortunately, paper bags do not decompose in landfills (but then neither do newspapers nor food scraps – there is not enough oxygen in a landfill for much decomposition of anything)!

Be a part of the solution! Purchase several reusable bags from the Campus Shoppe or local vendors and utilize them for all your shopping adventures!

Houseplants Improve Health

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that our indoor air quality is 5 to 10 times more polluted than the air outside our home! This statistic is attributed to cleaning product fumes plus paint and carpet glue that release gases for years. You can clean up your family’s air by purchasing products with low or no-volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and by keeping indoor plants. Indoor plants purify our air for us by removing toxic gases.

Fifty houseplants have been tested for their ability to remove chemicals common to paint and adhesive: formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, trichloroethylene, chloroform, ammonia, alcohols and acetone.

Additionally, NASA has shown that keeping indoor plants can alleviate “sick building syndrome” and reduce allergies, asthma, fatigue, headaches, respiratory and sinus congestion, and eye, nose and throat irritation.

Indoor Air Quality

Follow these tips for better indoor air quality:

  • Don’t allow smoking in the house
  • Dust and vacuum regularly
  • Fix water leaks promptly (within 48 hours)
  • Clean up mold immediately
  • Ensure all fuel-burning equipment ventilates properly to the outside
  • Keep pets off soft furniture and bedding
  • Test your home for radon
  • Seal cracks in foundation or basement walls
  • Ventilate the room when painting or using cleaning products
  • Keep houseplants which purify the air

More information can be found on the EPA website.

Work-Out with the Earth in Mind

Check out these tips to green your gear:

  • Avoid purchasing shoes with vinyl. The manufacturing, use and disposal of vinyl products creates toxic chemicals. New Balance and Asics make nearly all their products with zero vinyl.
  • Patagonia sells work-out gear with polyester and fleece made from recycled plastic soda bottles or organic cotton. To top it off, Patagonia pledges 1% of all sales to environmental preservation and restoration projects. The brand Be Present offers fabrics from sustainable bamboo fiber and Nau brand apparel boasts organic cotton and PLA (polylatic acid) made from corn and recycled polyester.

Choose Your Plastic Wisely

Many products we purchase can now be found in recyclable containers. Plastic comes to mind and it comes in many different forms:

  • PETE: Polyethylene Terephthalate; Commonly used in soft drinks, juice, and cough syrup containers and microwave trays (about 1/3 of all plastic bottles produced in US). Recycled, PETE can go into belts, shoes, insulation, car parts and blankets.
  • HDPE: High Density Polyethylene; Commonly used in milk jugs, detergent and shampoo bottles.
  • V: Polyvinyl Chloride; Commonly used in film for meat packaging and some rigid plastic containers.
  • LDPE: Low Density Polyethylene; Commonly used in newspaper and grocery bags and butter cups lids.
  • PP: Polypropylene; Commonly used in yogurt containers and deli trays.
  • PS: Polystyrene; Commonly used in plastic cups and plates and to-go containers.
  • OTHER: Other mixed resins such as PC: Polycarbonate; Commonly used in mixed plastic containers or plastic products.

Polycarbonate (#7), found in many baby bottles, can breakdown and release Bisphenol A (BPA) which may affect the endocrine system. It is important to never put them in the microwave or dishwasher or use to contain boiling liquids. Bisphenol A is an environmental estrogen – which means it is an unnatural chemical that acts like a female hormone when it enters the body. Health risks of Bisphenol A are still under investigation. Nalgene brand bottles can now be found with a “BPA-free” label.