Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Here's your official notice: You are in charge

Think what you're buying is safe to eat / bathe in / slather on / chow down? Um, in a word, NO, it's not. The government is not doing its job with regard to monitoring, evaluating and regulating chemicals in food, consumer products, etc. In addition to falling prey to heavily funded lobbies, government agencies are not equipped to keep up with the proliferation of chemicals bombarding us everyday from a preposterous number of sources.

Here's a wake-up call: It's up to you to keep your family, your pets, your neighborhood, and our whole planet safer and healthier for everyone. I'm serious. Did you see Erin Brockovich? That was not an isolated incident. It takes people like her (and you) to pay attention, raise a red flag, go the distance [insert more bad clich├ęs here].

Really, if it sounds hard, it's not! It just takes a little determination and a little research. Here are nine things (not necessarily in order of importance) you must consider doing for yourself, your loved ones and our planet. Now.

(1) Vote with your dollars. This means buy from companies you trust. Buy organic when you can. Don't buy disposable crap made shoddily in China or anywhere for that matter. Companies are paying attention to what people are buying and they will make available what you will buy at a price you will pay. You can find out more about companies' track records here, here and here.

(2) Ask questions.
Don't assume the fish is fresh, ask where it came from, whether you're at the grocery store or in a restaurant. Don't assume coffee or chocolate is fair trade, ask the clerk or check the label. If your store doesn't carry a good selection of organic, fair trade or local foods, ask them to stock more. The more people ask about where their food's coming from, the more stores and restaurants will realize they need to pay attention to what they're offering. But it doesn't stop at food. If your nail salon reeks of chemicals, ask them to try eco-friendly brands. If your kid's school still uses noxious chemicals for cleaning, educate them to the dangers of that exposure and suggest greener options. If your neighbor's treating their lawn with chemicals, find a way to peaceably suggest that they find an alternate solution, like tucking a brochure from a safe company inside their screen door.

3) Follow the leaders. Lots of smart people have dedicated themselves to righting the ship. They send newsletters out with really good information. Subscribe to them. Some of the best are: Environmental Working Group, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, The Green Guide and Healthy Child Healthy World. I'm sure there are more. Comment with your favorites. (Aside, speaking of leaders, the E.U. is way ahead of the U.S. in protecting its citizens from harmful substances.)

(4) Make your voice heard.
When these esteemed organizations above send you action alerts, read them. Pick the ones that matter most to you and use the automated form to send letters to your elected representatives. It's easy. Really easy. You can even post them to Facebook or forward them to your friends through email to spread the word. Of course, we don't know if these officials are listening to us, but not saying anything is a sure way to go unheard.

(5) Gear up your recycling.
Recycling is not just for cans and bottles. And it's not just something to do at home. It starts by making a habit of only buying stuff you can recycle (reference the little number in the recycle symbol). Then collect your batteries, light bulbs, old TVs, cardboard, junk mail, newspapers, scrap paper, plastic hangers and that pile of unclaimed pages by the work printer. Don't forget you can also compost fruit & vegetable scraps, newspaper, unbleached paper towels & napkins (if you haven't switched to cloth!), even biodegradable diapers and dog training pee pads. Make it a little game to see how little trash you can throw out each week.

(6) Use (and reuse) what you buy.
Beyond recycling, try "Being a Responsible Consumer 101." Buy what you need and nothing more. Really pay attention to what you are some examples: Do you choose paper greeting cards or online cards? Do you wrap presents in paper or in a reusable bag? Do you buy individually wrapped servings of foods? Still buying bottled water? Using something made from virgin materials once and recycling it is not solving, just delaying the problem. Upcycling once and then throwing it out, also not solving the problem. When you're done with something and it still has life in it, donate it or give it away. Try to think about the impact you're having, what you're throwing away, and challenge yourself to cut that in half. You will be amazed at how quickly it adds up. One day hopefully more products will be Cradle to Cradle.

(7) Cut your chemical consumption.
No more ChemLawn, Roundup or OTC Flea & Tick Treatments. You don't need these toxic chemicals and surely the aquatic life in your local water table doesn't need them either. Natural alternatives exist, or you can grow a garden or plants instead of grass, using native plants that don't need a lot of extra attention to flourish in your area. No more chemical pest control. A Terminix agent told my parents that they use the lowest concentration of the least toxic thing possible to get rid of termites. Same thing that's in Frontline, but far less of it, they said. My mom was convinced; I was not so sure. I looked on the website as the agent suggested and found nothing credible or detailed about the chemicals they use. Proprietary? I doubt it. I suspect their lawyers probably squelched any mention because it's not, in fact, nontoxic. If it was, they'd be touting it. Point is, ask questions. Do your research. Make sure what you're putting on your lawn, in your house, on your body, is not full of harsh, toxic chemicals.

(8) Don't make excuses, make time.
Educating yourself is easy these days. If you have not seen Fast Food Nation, rent it. You also need to see Food Inc., which is coming out this month. Based on the trailer alone, I think this movie will help inspire you. Hot, Flat & Crowded contains sound thinking (and it's easy to pick up and put down because Mr. Friedman kindly drills the points home). Some more good ones are Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, The Omnivore's Dilemma and Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home.

Keep tabs on your utilities. You know those little brochures they put in your utility bills (or attach to your online bill)? They are chock full of not-so-boring details you should know about the water, electric, gas, etc. that you are consuming. I looked at mine this week and realized that they only filter "the required amount" of cryptosporidium (a microbial pathogen). They went so far as to recommend that immuno-compromised people, some elderly and infants seek advice about drinking water from their healthcare providers. So basically, the water is safe for "normal" people, but the rest of the population is on its own. (Good luck to those infirm and infants getting advice from overburdened doctors.) Needless to say, as a mother of an infant and a six pound dog, these things make me mad. My husband and I are purchasing a whole house water filter this weekend.

I saw a bumper sticker that hit home the other day: "Good planets are hard to find." Think about it. And DO SOMETHING.

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