5 Ways to Love the Earth this Christmas

1. Think Outside the Box

According to a survey conducted by the American Research Group, Americans plan to spend an average of $801 for 2013 holiday gifts, with those making internet or catalog purchases planning to spend over $1100.1 What will we be giving? Another survey asked that question: gift cards topped the list, followed by electronics, clothing, books, and toys (in that order).2 With the exception of gift cards, most of these gifts come in boxes or packaging that end up in the landfill. But so what? Do boxes and packages make up a significant portion of landfill waste? According to a 2011 report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the largest portion of waste, by weight, in municipal landfills in the United States is, indeed, containers and packaging—30% or 76 million tons.3

So think outside the box. Avoid gifts with excessive packaging or give gifts that don’t even need to be wrapped: a homemade dinner, a house cleaning, concert tickets, or a massage.

2. Recycle your Wrapping

There are no hard statistics for the amount of wrapping paper used by Americans at Christmas. But the wrapping that ends up crumpled in the dumpster is, undeniably, wasteful. Ribbons, bows, and paper that is laminated or coated with foil or glitter cannot be recycled. Save what you can in order to use it next year. According to the Use-Less-Stuff Report, if every family reused two feet of ribbon, the 38,000 miles could tie a bow around our precious planet.4

Find a way to recycle anything that you cannot salvage. Many recycling companies either accept wrapping paper along with routine recyclables or hold collection events. Check with your local recycling facility.

3. Make Christmas Dinner Organic

A common tradition in our country is the Christmas ham. But most hogs in this country are raised in Confinement Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which are an environmental disaster. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports the following:

“CAFOs produce some 300 million tons of untreated manure each year (about twice as much as is generated by the entire human population of the United States)… Manure is often handled, stored, and disposed of improperly, resulting in leakage, runoff, and spills of waste into surface and groundwater…[and] the cost to clean up the contaminated soil under every U.S. hog and dairy CAFO would approach $4.1 billion.” 5

If you don’t want to give up the ham, there are better options. Small pasture operations raise hogs in a more sustainable fashion and avoid the use of antibiotics or growth-promoting drugs. Look for a local farm or ask if your natural grocer has a quality source. If you cannot find a local source, plan ahead next time and order online: Prairie Pride Pork and Flying Pigs Farm will both ship sustainably-raised hams to your door.

You can also come up with a new tradition for Christmas dinner. No matter what you choose, make it a point to use ingredients that are organically or sustainably raised in order to minimize the impact of agricultural chemicals on our planet.

4. Switch to LED lights

Christmas lights are festive and fun. But they are also energy-suckers. LED lights use 80-90% less energy than traditional Christmas lights and last 66 times longer. Click here for a simple comparison of the two. But do not throw your old lights in the trash! Check with your local recycling center or click here for information on a mail-in recycling program for holiday lights.   

5. Make a Resolution

I view the holidays not only as a time to celebrate and enjoy the company of loved ones, but also as a time to reflect and commit to creating a better world. In this spirit, I encourage you to take some time to consider what it is you can do in the coming year to love our planet more and preserve what we have left.

You might take some of the recommendations here and commit to carrying them through the entire year: minimize waste, recycle more, choose sustainably-raised foods, or switch to energy-efficient lighting. Maybe you will go so far as to replace your SUV with a Prius.

Let’s commit to saving this planet for our children.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!

References:

1.      2013 Christmas Gift Spending Plans Stall. American Research Group, Inc. 2013. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/

2.      Jasmine W. Gift Giving Statistics: What is Underneath Your Christmas Tree? CreditDonkeycom. 2013. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.creditdonkey.com/gift-giving.html

3.      Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2011. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/MSWcharacterization_508_053113_fs.pdf

4.      42 Ways to Trim Your Holiday Wasteline. Use Less Stuff. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.use-less-stuff.com/ULSDAY/42ways.html

5.      The Hidden Costs of CAFOs: Smart Choices for U.S. Food Production. Union of Concerned Scientists. 2008. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/cafo_issue-briefing-low-res.pdf

The Roundup on Roundup®

Source interview: Dr. Mercola interviews Dr. Don Huber, Professor Emeritus Purdue University

“We gain in science only when we recognize we have to address the system as a whole.”

–Don Huber, PhD

Dr. Don Huber is undeniably one of the most intelligent people on this planet. He has been a professor of plant pathology at Purdue University for the last 35 years. His research has led him to become very outspoken against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the use of the herbicide glyphosate, which is also known as Roundup®. He recently spoke with Dr. Mercola about glyphosate and I want to share some highlights here.

Glyphosate is an herbicide (a weed killer) that is used extensively in agriculture, landscaping, and even along roadsides. It is the primary herbicide used on genetically modified plants such as Roundup-Ready® soybeans, alfalfa, and corn. Glyphosate was patented by Monsanto® in 1974. Since the introduction of GMO crops in 1996, its usage has increased exponentially. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to increase its allowable levels in food. On May 1, 2013, the EPA doubled the allowable level so that soybean oil can now contain 40 parts per million (ppm) of glyphosate.

As an herbicide, glyphosate does not actually kill weeds itself. Glyphosate is a chelator. That means that it immobilizes minerals, essentially depleting the nutrition from the plant. This weakens the plant so that it becomes susceptible to disease from pathogens like fungus in the soil. It is actually the soil pathogens that end up killing the weeds.

Glyphosate is also patented as a potent antibiotic. It kills beneficial gut bacteria in humans at a level of only 0.1 parts per million (ppm). Since the allowable level in food is now 400 times that amount, we can be fairly certain that eating foods that have been sprayed with glyphosate will devastate our microflora.

The link between glyphosate exposure and gut health is profound. Dr. Huber references an article published this year that details the biochemical connection between glyphosate, intestinal health, and diseases that are rapidly becoming epidemic in our society. He also references epidemiological data that shows a correlation between the increased prevalence of GMOs, glyphosate use, and more than 35 modern diseases. It is well established that modern diseases such as allergies, asthma, autism, irritable bowel, and autoimmune disease correlate with inflamed, leaky, or otherwise compromised gut health. It may be that glyphosate is playing a key role in that pathology.

Glyphosate does not just stay on the surface of the plant so that we can wash it off. It actually gets incorporated into the plant itself so that we inevitably eat it in our food. The best way to avoid glyphosate is to not eat genetically engineered foods. You can read more about GMOs and how to avoid them at the Institute for Responsible Technology or the NonGMO Project.

Dr. Huber asserts that glyphosate’s “primary claim to fame is to benefit the bottom line of a commercial enterprise.” We need to vote with our forks and do everything within our power not to support these corporate giants.

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FDA Update: Arsenic in Rice


SAM_2853The News

On Friday, September 6, 2013, the FDA released results of arsenic contamination levels of rice and rice products from retail stores across the United States.

Combined with data collected in September 2012, this brings the total number of rice products tested by the FDA to 1300. Their results are comparable to those found by a Consumer’s Report investigation  in 2012.

Background

Before I share any numbers with you, let me give you a frame of reference. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that there is no safe level of inorganic arsenic in our food and they have never established a permissible level. The EPA does, however, limit arsenic in drinking water to 10 parts per million. At that level, drinking one liter of water per day would expose a person to 10 mcg of inorganic arsenic. Let’s therefore assume that the federal government has established that it is safe to consume no more than 10 mcg of inorganic arsenic per day.


The Results

Every rice product tested contained some level of detectable arsenic.

The most recent update from the FDA reports that average levels of inorganic arsenic ranged from 2.6 to 7.2 mcg per serving in rice itself and 0.1 to 6.6 mcg per serving in rice products.  Brown rice and rice pasta were at the high end of the spectrum for each of these categories.

The Consumer’s Report data from 2012 showed that one serving of long grain brown rice from Whole Foods packed a whopping 7.4 to 8.4 mcg of arsenic. Barbara’s Organic Brown Rice Crisps had 5.9 to 6.7 mcg per serving. Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Pasta had 5.9 to 6.9 mcg.

The Source of Arsenic

Arsenic is a naturally occurring metal in the earth’s crust. But human activities such as burning fuel, mining, and agricultural practices have increased arsenic levels in the environment.

The United States is the world’s leading user of arsenic. Residues from decades of use of lead-arsenate pesticides linger in our soil today. One arsenical pesticide continues to be used on golf courses and roadsides. Arsenical drugs are fed to chickens to improve their pigmentation and their growth. Arsenic-laced poultry waste is then used to make fertilizer, which directly contaminates our crops.

Arsenic is a pollutant of our soil and water. Because rice is grown in water, it takes up more of this toxin than other grains or foods. The arsenic concentrates in the outer layer of the grain, which is why we see higher levels in brown than white rice.

Arsenic Toxicity

Inorganic arsenic is a carcinogen. It is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney, and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers. For those of you who want the details, see this article on chronic arsenic toxicity.

What to Do

Based on these results, Consumer Reports has issued recommendations to limit arsenic exposure. For adults they recommend consuming no more than either 2 servings of rice per week or 3 servings of rice pasta per week or one serving of rice crackers per day. Please follow this link to see a chart of their recommendations.

For ethnic groups whose traditional diets rely predominantly on rice, these recommendations can be extremely restrictive. For those of us who eat a gluten-free diet, they can be equally challenging.

Consumer Reports makes a few other recommendations for reducing arsenic exposure:

  • Check your water. If you have a municipal water supply, reports should be available annually.
  • Change the way you cook rice. Rinse rice thoroughly before cooking. Cook with a ratio of 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice and drain when it is finished. Research shows that this removes about 30% of the rice’s inorganic arsenic. But other nutrients will also be sacrificed to the cooking water and it is not known which variable has a more profound health impact over time.
  • Vary your diet. Wheat and oats have lower arsenic levels than rice. Quinoa, millet and amaranth have not been studied as much.

The Bigger Picture

Rice is not the only food that is contaminated by arsenic. A 2009-2010 study by the EPA estimated that rice contributes 17% of dietary inorganic arsenic with fruits and fruit juices providing 18% and vegetables at 24%.

This is not a “rice” issue. This is a “planet” issue. If we continue to pollute our earth with unnecessary chemicals such as arsenical pesticides and drugs for chickens, we will never again have a safe food supply.

In fact even organic farming practices cannot prevent arsenic from being soaked up by the plants. The arsenic is present in our environment so it is present in our foods and it is present in our bodies.

We could rapidly make ourselves sick with worry over these issues. Or we could accept the reality that our food supply is impure and do everything in our power to support our body’s resilience to thrive.

I prefer the second option. Load up on your fruits and veggies every day, choose the cleanest foods you can afford, and eat a wide variety of foods in moderation. This has always been and will always be the best that we can do.