Sunday, September 9, 2007

Feeling Dumpy?

U.S., Chemical Dumping Ground

I didn’t need eyeliner to widen my eyes during today’s panel on hazardous chemicals in consumer products at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference. The gist: “Products banned in Europe, Japan and even China are being dumped on the U.S. market,” said L.A. Times reporter Marla Cone. The reason? Because our regulations of industrial chemicals are lax or non-existent, we’ve fallen behind the world’s largest market, the European Union, which has banned toxic substances from cosmetics and electronics.

While Procter & Gamble reluctantly removed hormone-disrupting, fat-cell-feeding phthalates from its nail polish and other personal products in both the EU and U.S., many companies apply a double standard in the two markets, said Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power (Chelsea Green, 2007). In the meantime, Schapiro noted, industry continues to fight labeling that would allow us to make informed choices. For instance, we have to guess at whether “Fragrance” in a body cream or shampoo is made with phthalates or not.

What to do? Type your cosmetics into the search engine at Environmental Working Group’s If you can’t find it there-- as in the case of my Burt’s Bees Carrot Day Cream, which lists “fragrance” as an ingredient—you can search individual ingredients listed on the packaging, which EWG rates as green, yellow or red, depending on the level of risk. EWG rates “fragrance/parfum” as a “high hazard.” I was able to approximate the risk for my carrot cream by comparing it with a similar Burt’s Bees Milk n’ Honey Body Lotion, which also lists “fragrance” and gets a “moderate hazard” rating.

So, what’s “fragrance” doing in creams by Burt’s, which has signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics? I called the company and asked. They assured me that their fragrance was all-natural essential oils and that all their products are phthalate-free. But if they don’t spell it out, there’s really no way that a consumer can be sure—in the U.S., at least.

Friday, September 7, 2007

BPA/Phthalate-Free Plastics

Greener Food Serve n' Store: BPA/Phthalate-Free List, Part 2

For those not ready to surrender summer, eating out of doors extends the season’s light, carefree touch—especially with reusable or compostable picnic ware. Great for school and brown-bag lunches, too.

A Reader Asks: I want to know the best options for outside/ kids/ picnic dinnerware. Paper, bamboo still end up in landfills. Melamine lasts but is it eco-friendly? Plastic can be recycled and recycled, but who makes that? Answer: Each American produces, on average, about 4 and ½ pounds of trash a day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Recycling, reusing and choosing post-consumer-recycled (PCR) products not only helps keep waste out of landfills, but it also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by manufacturing and transporting new products and trash.


Melamine is lightweight and reusable, and considered safe as dinnerware by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Its eco-friendliness, however, remains indeterminate: Melamine, as a Chinese pet food additive that also made its way into some fish and livestock feed, made headlines in the recalls of potentially toxic products earlier this year.
If you’ve got melamine ware, it’s probably safe for normal use (as a rule, Greenerpenny advises against heating food in plastics). But when it comes to buying new, we may not want to throw our consumer demand behind the manufacture of this and other synthetics.

Recycled Dining Ware 100 percent recycled, washable dishes made from Stonyfield yogurt plates, cups and cutlery, from 100 percent recycled (minimum 83 percent post-consumer), nonchlorine-bleached paper plates, Napkins Use washable cloth napkins or dishcloths, or choose processed chlorine-free (PCF), post-consumer-waste (PCW) paper napkins from Earth 1st, at 365, at Conventional Plastics Among petroleum-based plastics, some are more recyclable and least-toxic than others. When shopping for food storage containers, check recycling codes on the bottoms, as follows: Don’ts: Toxic, Not Recyclable #3 Vinyl or PVC (polyvinyl chloride), releases carcinogenic dioxins into the environment and can leach hormone-disrupting phthalate plasticizers. PVC is used in many cling and stretch food wraps and films. #6 PS (polystyrene), that white spongey stuff of takeout coffee cups and clamshells, can leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, when heated or in contact with fatty foods. OK: Recyclable, but not so Reusable #1 PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) containers are recyclable, but studies indicate that with repeated use, PET containers may release di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, linked to hormone disruption and cancer. #7 (miscellaneous), includes polycarbonate plastic, which contains hormone-disrupting bisphenol A. Do's: Recyclable, Least-Toxic #2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is widely recyclable. Do's: Least-Toxic, but not so Recyclable #4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene) is used in some food wraps and sandwich bags. Reclosable Sandwich Bags, Glad Cling Wrap, Sandwich and Food Storage Bags Saran Cling Plus Best Yet Clear Plastic Wrap Ziploc Bags Hefty Baggies #5 PP (polypropylene) is popular in reusable containers, though not frequently recycled. Rubbermaid (#5) 2 qt. Pour N Saver Canister, ($8.49, and 22-piece food storage set ($9.99, Paper Sandwich Bags These are coated with “food-grade” petroleum-based wax: Unbleached waxed paper sandwich bags, Unbleached recycled waxed paper sandwich bags, Parchment paper, coated with silicone, New, Renewable Bio-Plastics The latest thing in food service ware for green-minded institutions, from Stanford University to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, are compostable (as opposed to “biodegradable”) utensils, takeout clamshells, plates and bowls made of corn-, potato- or sugarcane “bagasse”-based polymers. Many of these are washable and hence reusable. For products, go to: Although, as a general rule, these items can only be broken down by industrial-strength composters, they’re a respectable step in a green direction. Note: Look for the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)/ USA Composting Council (USCC) “compostable” label. Some cities pick up compostable plastics—check with your municipal solid waste department or see Some Wild Oats markets, which use bioplastic takeout containers, will also take them back from consumers. Ask your local market/deli to follow suit. For locating bioplastic composters, go to