Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Speaking of mercury, here's the dish on fish

Green Guide posted a compiled list of good, bad and ugly fish choices based on data from several reputable sources. It's quite comprehensive, so I'm just going to hit the highlights. You can find the whole list here.

At stake are potential toxicity for us and seriously adverse affects of fishing on our oceans. Some fish are so contaminated with mercury or PCBs that we should not eat them at all. Some are fished with destructive methods that mess with the ecosystem. And some are just completely overfished, endangering the survival of the species (not to mention our food supply).

The hardest part of this is knowing the origins of the fish you're eating, especially in restaurants. Don't be afraid to ask because this is what drives chefs, stores and fishmongers to be more thoughtful about their selections. Otherwise, read labels. I found wild-caught Gulf shrimp at Giant in the frozen section for about the same price as imported.

Note that all farmed fish are not created equal. Some are safe to eat. Most imported farmed fish is not. You have to put a little time into making the best decisions, but we can all thank the researchers out there who have helped with lists like this one.

Here's the down-low on the most popular fish choices:

Best---Dungeness trap-caught in U.S.; Imitation wild-caught in AK (think about this...I did not make it up, was on list!); Snow crab from Canada; Stone crabs from FL
Okay---Blue from Gulf Coast); King from AK; Kona from HI, Australia; Snow crab from AK
Worst---Imported King

Best---Pink, wild-caught in OR; Spot Prawn wild-caught in BC
Okay---Shrimp either farmed or trawl-caught in U.S. Atlantic, U.S. Gulf of Mexico; Spot Prawn wild-caught in U.S.

Best and Only---Wild-caught in AK
Worst---All other salmon

Best---Bay farmed in U.S.
Worst---Sea from Mid Atlantic

Best---NONE acceptable for regular consumption
Okay---Canned light; Troll-caught Pacific albacore
Worst---Canned white, albacore, bigeye, bluefin, yellowfin

These are more GOOD choices:
  • Arctic char (farmed)
  • Barramundi (U.S. farmed)
  • Clams, soft-shell and steamers (farmed)
  • Crawfish (U.S. farmed)
  • Lobster, spiny/rock (U.S., Australia, Baja west coast)
  • Mussels (U.S. farmed)
  • Oysters (Pacific farmed)
  • Pollock (AK, wild-caught)
  • Sardines
  • Squid, longfin (U.S. Atlantic)
  • Striped bass (farmed)
  • Tilapia (U.S. farmed)
  • Trout, rainbow (U.S. farmed)Fish Too Contaminated by Mercury to Eat -- Ever:
  • Arctic char (freshwater)
  • Bass/sea bass (wild)
  • Catfish (wild)
  • Chilean sea bass
  • Croaker (Pacific) aka White Croaker
  • Groupers
  • Halibut (Atlantic)
  • Mackerel, king and Spanish (Gulf of Mexico)
  • Marlin
  • Opah
  • Orange roughy
  • Pike
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Yellow perch
  • Walleye

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mercury: the new cause for corn-cern

Straight from AOL:
"Mercury Found in Commerical [sic] Corn Syrup. Almost half of the corn syrup
tested in a new study contained mercury, according to HealthDay
And a third of commercial food products with corn syrup had mercury as
well. The studies focused on high-fructose corn syrup, known as HFCS, which is
often produced using caustic soda that contains mercury, the news service

One study, published in the Environmental Health journal, found detectable levels of mercury in nine out of 20 commercial HFCS samples. The other study found that one of every three brand-name foods, out of 55 tested, included mercury, HeathDay [sic] News reported. The most common foods with mercury were dairy products, dressing and condiments...

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, high levels of mercury can cause brain and liver damage. Short-term exposure to high levels of mercury can increase blood pressure and trigger rashes, eye irritation, nausea, vomiting and other health problems.

"Note to the FDA: Pull those annoying and misleading commercials about HFCS being "natural" and "healthy" so that people are not misled any further by the agribusiness lobby. I, for one consumer, have had enough. It's nasty, it's unhealthy and it's overused.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Keep on truckin' -- sustainably

It's hard to find quality kids toys that don't cost a fortune. That's why I had to post this awesome truck set made with Eco-Friendly Sprigwood (described as real pine infused into recycled plastic). They're paint-free and provide realistic mechanical action. Made in Prague.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The diapering dilemma...2009 version

First of all, people are reading my blog. Hooray! I know this because my friend Quyen wrote to ask what I recommended for her neighbor who's having a baby and is trying to be green. Having just struggled through this decision myself, I thought it would be a good post for others. Your first thought is probably that cloth is the greenest option. Not so fast.

Cloth diapers have to be made, usually from cotton, which is one of the most pesticided crops on the planet. Then they have to be washed and dried with every use, requiring energy and water. If you use a diaper service, add in the effects of driving a delivery truck around.

Could disposable diapers really be comparable in environmental terms? Well, it depends whom you ask. Mass brands seem not to be good for several reasons. One, they bleach the pulp with chlorine. Not good for baby or environment. Two, the gel used to contain the wetness has been questioned by environmental health groups. Three, they use chemicals to scent the diapers. Again, not good all around. (I bought a pack of Pampers Swaddlers out of desperation this week because they don't carry Seventh Generation at my grocery store and could not believe how strong the fragrance was. Even Alex noticed and raised concern.)

The more eco-friendly diapers -- Tushies, Nature Boy & Girl, Mother Nature, Seventh Generation and TenderCare, to name the most available brands -- are slightly better than conventional in that they don't use chlorine bleach or synthetic fragrance (or any fragrance in most cases). The brownish color of Seventh Generation may be offputting to some, but I've had great success with them, and so far, no diaper rash at all (two months in). Only Tushies do not use the gel, though.

The third and newest option is a hybrid, which generally means a cloth outer diaper with snaps or velcro to close it, along with a flushable/compostable liner. Bum Genius and gDiapers are the leaders in this category. We have tried gDiapers but found it to be difficult to pull off with a baby on a changing table and the toilet several rooms away. I'd encourage you to consider this option, though, as it does make better environmental sense.

Grist has a number of great articles related to this subject. One on disposables. Umbra's advice on the cloth versus disposable debate. Tips for...wait for it...diaperless parenting! And an interview with the founders of gDiapers, one of the better hybrid options.

Also, depending on where you live (like me), you may not have access to bulk sizes of natural disposable diapers. To try to minimize my impact, I order diapers and wipes in bulk sizes, as many as make sense at one time, from through ebates. This way, I get a rebate of 6% from ebates and a credit of 5% for future purchases on, plus free ground shipping. And I only order about once a month. You can also find these at (used to be 1800Diapers). If you want to use, let me know and I can send you a referral for $10 off your first purchase.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This old dog learned a new (life-saving) trick

Last Fall, my mom took my dear little poodle to the vet because he was acting very lethargic and coughing/gagging constantly. He had some allergies, so I thought it was related to that. In fact, the vet could barely find a pulse, said his lungs were filled with fluid and diagnosed congestive heart failure. He put him on a diuretic and a heart pill.

These worked for a week or two, then he was fading again. We added another heart med. Fortunately, these were affordable treatments; unfortunately, they were not working. I called the vet, who told me to take the dog to a specialist. Yikes. I called and was quoted $800 plus and that was just for tests and the initial consultation. Ouch.

I turned to the Internet. Lo and behold, I found Five Leaf Pet Pharmacy, which sells natural remedies for pets. I read testimonial after testimonial of people whose dogs' health situation sounded like Frazier's. So I paid the $80 to have an herbal heart tonic, human-grade L-Carnitine & Taurine powders sent. Within days, he was improved.

Now, about three months later, he almost never coughs and is as spry as ever. Honestly, it's a miracle to me. We are now going to wean him off the pharmaceutical drugs and see if the natural remedies cut it on their own. I expect they will. Stay tuned for any updates.

Pop go the pesticides

If you're careful as I am about what you feed the ankle-biters, you probably want to take a hard look at popcorn. Conventionally grown corn is genetically modified (and has been shown to have adverse health effects on mice), plus it's awash with chemicals. Lou Bendrick does a great job breaking it down for Grist.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Using your bean (bag)

Ever thought about the filling in your bean bag or the PVC in the vinyl cover? If you're concerned what's in your kids' environment, you'll be thrilled with the buckwheat-hull-filled, organic-cotton-covered version I found. Not sure if this is as nontoxic, but I've also found the recycled EcoSak line.

You can be a responsible shopper

It's hard to think green all the time. Like when you're standing in Best Buy looking at all the electronics equipment, trying to decide which TV to buy. You want to choose something that is environmentally sensitive, but the salesperson gives you a blank stare when you ask. There is no signage (other than Energy Star) to tell you that a company is a stellar enviro-citizen or that they are dumping their waste in third-world countries.

Thankfully, researchers are out there working to help you make informed decisions. I try to remember what authors Ellis Jones, Ross Haenfler and Brett Johnson wrote in "The Better World Handbook." It's a great little book that teaches you ways to make a difference without being an all-out activist. It's about influencing with your purchasing dollars.

Another great resource is Green America's Responsible Shopper, which "provides you with the real story about abuses by well-known companies, gives you actions to promote corporate responsibility, and helps you green your life and world."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eagles' green double entendre

With the Philadelphia Eagles just about to take the field for the Divisional Championship, I am proud to be a fan. But it's not just because of their success on the field. I'm very impressed with the green initiatives and commitment to educating fans about pro-environmental causes.

Here are a few of owner Christina Lurie's accomplishments that set the Eagles apart from other pro teams:

  • Replaced 30+ tons of plastic by using bio-based cups, plates, utensils ,etc.
  • Implemented energy-saving measures that cut Lincoln Financial Field's use by 33%
  • Recycling of 19% of all waste generated
  • Using renewable energy resources--100% run on wind energy, plus they have installed solar panels at NovaCare Complex to generate more power
  • Encouraging fans to "buy a tree" in Eagles Forest
  • Teaching people about achieving carbon neutrality

If an NFL team can do it and do it profitably, I must believe that more companies and organizations can follow suit. GO EAGLES!

Try to watch "Living with Ed"

Ed Begley, Jr. is a funny guy with a gorgeous wife and a serious commitment to minimizing his impact on the planet. He knows lots of interesting people, including neighbor--and green rival--Bill Nye the Science Guy, and he knows a lot about leading an eco-friendly lifestyle. It was from this show that I found SolaTube, the natural light tunnel we installed in our downstairs bath.

Living with Ed is an entertaining way to learn about "greening" your house and your life, and you might even be inspired to hook up your exercise bike to power your TV. Think that's crazy? In Ed's world, that is totally mainstream compared to most of his antics.

BEST OF: baby wipes

Best: Tushies with Aloe Vera

Runners-Up: Seventh Generation Baby & Mother Nature Flushable

Worst: Canus 'Lil Goat's Milk & Mustela Extra Thick

Source: EWG, Skin Deep Cosmetics Database

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What's another 0.1 cent anyway?

I always found it sort of stupid that gasoline is priced $x.xx9 instead of just rounding up to the next cent. Most people probably never think about it, but this is the kind of thing that gets stuck in my head. If you put 15 gallons of gas in your car, we're talking about another 1.5 cents each time you fill your tank. Minutaie, right?

According to the FHWA's Traffic Volume Trend System, Americans drove 2.425 trillion miles in 2008. WikiAnswers states that the average American vehicle on the road gets 17 MPG. Okay, ladies and gents, let's do some math. Divide 2.425 trillion by 17 and you get 142,647,060,000 gallons of gasoline consumed in a single year.

Now multiply .001 by 142,647,060,000 and you get $142,647,060. Oh, how that 1.5 cents adds up! I propose we make the industry round up that extra .001 cent and put that resulting $142.65 billion toward any of the following:
  • Prizes for technology innovation that drastically improves vehicle MPG;
  • Public transportation improvements;
  • Environmental restoration or conservation projects;
  • Scholarships for promising science students;
  • Funding research on carbon sequestering.

I'm sure there are even better ideas for that chunk of change. Leave comments with your ideas.

And this doesn't even count the savings realized by dropping that extra plastic number off all the gas station signs. Well, there are about 115,000 fueling stations in the U.S. and those numbers each cost ... okay, let's not get carried away.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I have an organic beef

My Costco used to sell delicious organic ground beef in three convenient, freezable one-pound vac-pacs. When I couldn't find it on my last trip, I inquired. Apparently it sold so well as a pilot item that they planned full distribution. Only problem--sufficient supply was not available for the whole chain, so only "top stores" were now getting it.

Go figure: When beef is raised to organic standards, it's not sustainable on a huge scale. Maybe Costco should have looked for local suppliers for each part of the country instead of trying to stretch one rancher nationwide. As someone who's cut back but not cut beef out, it's just another reminder that eating beef, even organic beef, is not helping the environment.

UPDATE (5/09): The organic beef 3lb package is back. Different supplier, but still certified organic. Thank you, Costco!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Spastic about plastic

Alex and I long ago stopped microwaving anything plastic and recently have stopped washing any plastic in the dishwasher. While there is dispute about plastics and exposure to heat -- do they leach or not? -- we aren't taking any chances.

Most of the plastic we use is related to the boys, from sippy cups to plates to small storage containers. Chances are, many of the cheap plastic DO break down and release toxins when heated. Besides, they discolor and warp and sometimes they even smell funny. If you are curious about good and bad plastics, here's a decent guide.

We are gradually switching to all glass containers for food storage. This is not an inexpensive proposition, but I have to say it feels a bit luxurious to use pretty glass containers for our leftovers. I prefer the type you can use in the freezer, dishwasher, microwave, anywhere. Most have plastic lids, so we still have to hand-wash those, but I've found some with glass lids. I figure while I'm finding ones that work and aren't crazy expensive, I'll share the findings here. Please feel free to comment on your favorites.

Crate & Barrel "refrigerator dish" (this has a glass cover)
Crate & Barrel round set by Frigoverre (I have these and like them; other sizes available also has a nice selection (and if you join, you get 10% all year long)
Pyrex is another good option, available through Amazon and others

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I can't believe I learned something on Regis & Kelly

After enjoying an interview with my favorite Bond -- Daniel Craig, I started folding laundry and zoning off. John Giddings from HGTV's "Designed to Sell" was up next, talking about ways to save money around the house. First, a programmable thermostat and then power strips. Check, check. Then he said you can lose efficiency through outlets on exterior walls. Have to admit, this was news to me. A cheap little piece of insulation is sold at hardware stores -- just put it between your switchplate and the wall to seal it up. Neato. It is definitely that panicked big heating bill time of year.

Next, I opened my laptop to check email and found an article called "Locate Air Leaks" in my TerraPass enewsletter. This got me thinking about how much energy my old house is likely wasting. The big, architectural windows in the front, as well as those in the attic, have not been updated (it's a 1915 house). These fixes are on our list, but it will be costly to achieve the same look in new windows. We know we don't have a lot of insulation, but we do have double-layer brick and plaster construction. Well, did I mention our dual-flush toilets and low-flow faucets? At least we're saving water.

Anyway, the TerraPass article talked about one guy who got a free energy audit from his utility company. I went to PPL and UGI to see if we could get one. Maybe, but I couldn't find any such thing on the websites. I tried to log in on PPL to do the online evaluation, but I couldn't remember my password. I also apparently answered my security question wrong, so I was locked out (on the first try). I hope their power plants have security as serious as this!

Another comment grabbed my attention. "Richard" noted that his bathroom fans were letting warm air escape because they don't have a positive closure. I, too, have noticed this and wish someone at Nutone would get wise to it. I can't live without a fan in the bathroom in the warmer months, but I've actually thought of sealing it off during the winter. I don't know of any other fix.

My solution is assigning "make house more energy efficient" to the husband. I'm instead going to focus on saving the world with my green ideas.

Time to get serious

I'm almost done with Thomas Friedman's "Hot, Flat and Crowded" book and it's eye-opening to say the least. Anyone who's interested in understanding the impact of population growth, policy-making and our Western lifestyle on the environment -- past, present and future -- will get a lot out of this easy read.

I say "easy read" because he writes for everyman, with a tad too much repetition. But this is what makes it easy to pick up, put down and pick up again without feeling lost. He is well-read and researched and seems to reference all the right people when making his case.

The first half of the book is downright scary, but the second half tells us how to fix things. Yes, there is still hope, though time is ticking. If you can figure out a way to create cheap, abundant, clean, transportable electrons (energy), you could be fabulously wealthy (and save the world as we know it, if that matters any to you).

I'm not exactly a scientist, but my mind is working on the problem, so who knows. Better than buying a lottery ticket and with exponentially more upside.