Do One Green Thing
Saving the Earth through Simple Everyday Choices
By Mindy Pennybacker, Carolyn Vibbert
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2010 Mindy Pennybacker
All rights reserved.
ONE GREEN THING
Free yourself from the bottled water habit.
Why? If every American stopped buying water in disposable bottles:
1. We'd save the nonrenewable fossil fuels that are used in the plastic, which equals seventeen million barrels of oil annually — enough to fuel one million U.S. cars for a year. Adding in the energy used for pumping, processing, transporting, and refrigerating bottled water, Americans would save fifty-four million barrels of oil, the same as running three million cars for a year.
2. We'd save greenhouse gas emissions by keeping at least 2.5 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
3. We'd save water. Bottled water has a heavy water footprint: Twice as much water goes into making a bottle as its contents, so every bottle of water sold actually represents three bottles of water.
4. We'd save energy. Bottled water uses more energy than tap — up to two thousand times more, depending on the distance it travels to the consumer.
5. We'd save money. Worldwide, every year, an estimated $100 billion is spent on bottled water. If you replace just one bottle of store-bought water ($1.50 and up for 12 ounces) a day with tap water (less than $0.10 per gallon) you'll save at least $440 a year.
Isn't bottled spring water safer than tap water?
Not necessarily. Tests of bottled water have found many unhealthy contaminants.
Drink tap water. Fill your own reusable bottle.
Don't drink bottled water, except when you really need it. For example, local reservoirs may be contaminated after a storm, or you may be traveling in places that don't have safe public water supplies.
better for your health
Be assured that most water in the United States, both bottled and tap, is safe to drink, although there are periodic public alerts of contamination by lead, chemicals, or bacteria. Bottled water, though, is actually less strictly regulated than tap. Tests of 10 mainstream brands of bottled water by the Environmental Working Group in 2008, and of 103 brands by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1999, found bacteria and toxic chemicals in many of the samples. Because public water supplies are regulated, you can easily find out if your tap water contains unhealthy contaminants, most of which can be painlessly removed by using refillable pitchers and faucet attachments with replaceable carbon filter cartridges by makers such as Brita, Pur, and Zero Water.
better for the planet
To top off all the savings already mentioned, if just one out of twenty Americans stopped buying water in disposable bottles, we'd save 30 million pounds of plastic waste a year. Although they're recyclable, more than 80 percent of plastic water bottles in the United States end up in landfills. Tapping into springs, whether in the United States, France, or Fiji, can cause lower water flow and the drying up of creek beds, which harms ecosystems downstream.
better for social justice
At present, 1.1 billion of the world's people, mostly the poor, do not have access to safe drinking water. When private companies take and bottle spring (or even tap) water — often for little to no money paid to local communities — they endanger the political stability of poor countries and the health of residents who can't afford to pay for clean tap water. By choosing public tap water over private bottled water, we're helping buck the creeping trend toward treating clean water as a market commodity rather than a service that all governments should provide.
WHAT'S IN YOUR WATER?
By July 1 of every year, your water utility company is required to send you a report listing any contaminants in your water supply that exceed EPA safety levels. If you don't receive your report in the mail, call the utility to request it, or check for it online at the Environmental Working Group's national tap water database: www.ewg.org/tapwater/yourwater/ or at www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo/index.html.
Finding the Right Filter
Regular carbon filters, like those in carafes or faucet attachments, remove heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, some parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals. But carbon filters do not remove bacteria, which may enter systems after storms and sewage spills. In the case of local drinking water alerts, drink bottled water (purified water is cheap) and consider ways to further clean up your tap water if contamination continues.
Consumers Union rates carbon filter performance at www.greenerchoices.org/ratings.cfm?product=waterfilter.
For how-tos on filtering bacteria and other contaminants, go to www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/gfilters.asp.
Worth a Test: Lead
Lead may also enter your water through old lead-lined water mains and building pipes. If you're pregnant or have young children, it's a good idea to use a carbon filter as a precaution while you have your tap water tested for lead. Ask your city department of health or environmental protection agency if they provide free water testing. If not, find a nearby certified testing lab at www.epa.gov/safewater/labs/index.html.
Recycling Carbon Filters
Preserve Products recycles Brita pitcher filters, which can be dropped off at many Whole Foods stores. See www.preserveproducts.com/recycling/britafilters.html.
You can also mail filters to Brita and to Zero Water for recycling (but you pay for the postage). Zero Water will reward you with discounts on new filters. See www.zerowater.com.
WHEN IN DOUBT, FILTER!
Drink your tap water out of a carbon filter carafe, which removes the most common contaminants, until you find out what contaminants of concern, if any, your city's drinking water has.
For more information, log on to www.greenerpenny.com.
I've heard that some plastic bottles leach toxic chemicals. What's the safest reusable water bottle?
Choose reusable bottles made from safe plastic or stainless steel.
FINDING A SAFE BOTTLE FOR YOUR TAP WATER
Choose reusable drink bottles made from the following materials:
1. Stainless-steel beverage bottles
2. Tempered glass baby bottles
3. Bottles specifically made to be reused, crafted out of plastics that have not been found to leach toxic chemicals:
High-density polyethylene (HDPE #2)
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE #4)
Polypropylene (PP #5)
Tritan copolyester (Other #7), a new transparent plastic that the manufacturer assures is made without BPA
Lose the following:
1. Bottles made with polycarbonate (PC #7),*also known as Lexan, which can release toxic Bisphenol A (BPA) into their contents (see "Plastics by the Numbers".)
2. Reusing disposable plastic water or juice bottles made of polyethylene (PET, or PETE, #1) more than once or twice
*Some baby bottles are also made of PC.
better for your health
By not drinking out of PC bottles, you'll avoid one major risk of exposure to a chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA), which the U.S. National Toxicology Center has warned may interfere with normal human brain and hormonal development. BPA crosses the placenta, and thus also poses a particular threat to fetuses; it also can harm young children. "I would advise a pregnant woman to try to reduce or entirely eliminate her exposure to Bisphenol A," said the lead author of a 2009 study. Higher levels of BPA have been implicated in cardiovascular disease and diabetes in adults. For more information, see the "Food Storage and Cookware".
By not reusing disposable bottles, you'll avoid possible illness from the bacteria that they collect, even when washed. Unlike wide-mouth sports bottles that are easy to clean, disposables are not made to be reused. Most disposable water bottles are made of very thin polyethylene (PET #1) plastic; hormone-imitating chemicals have been found in water from some samples of PET bottles, including some that have been stored for long periods, or at high temperatures (often attained when left in a car or backpack in the sun). PET is also the most recyclable plastic, so feel good about tossing these disposables in a recycling bin rather than reusing.
better for the planet
Choosing non-BPA plastics sends a strong message to companies to decrease the manufacture of this toxic chemical and its release into the environment.
Still, more and more kinds of disposable water bottles are being made. PET #1, while easily recyclable, is made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource whose massive carbon and water footprints are noted above.
Another new kind of plastic bottle on the market is made out of polylactide (PLA #7) bioplastics. PLA, a clear plastic made from corn or potato starch, is not readily recyclable — but if the occasional PLA bottle gets tossed in a recycle bin, it won't cause harm. Overall, bioplastics are greener than conventional plastics, since they're made from renewable plant materials rather than petroleum. For more info on bioplastics, which are also used to make food containers, see "Food Storage and Cookware,".
PLASTICS BY THE NUMBERS
You can usually identify plastics by the recycling code numbers in the "chasing arrows" triangle stamped on the bottom of the containers. Refer to this list for the environmental and health impacts of different plastics, listed here:
#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET, or PETE): It is used in most disposable and some sports bottles, is easily recyclable, but, alas, seldom recycled. (Ninety percent of disposable water bottles wind up in landfills, according to the Container Recycling Institute.) It does not leach BPA, but may, in rare instances, leach other chemicals if heated or old.
#2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE): It is used in milk and gallon water jugs, is the most widely recycled plastic, and has not been found to leach any chemicals.
#3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC): The worst plastic in my book and the least recyclable, it can leach toxic lead and phthalates, plasticizing chemicals that have been linked to the development of irregular reproductive organs in male infants and obesity in men.
#4 low-density polyethylene (LDPE): This is a somewhat recyclable plastic that hasn't been found to leach.
#5 polypropylene (PP): Not easily recycled, but popular in reusable bottles and food containers, it hasn't been found to leach chemicals into water.
#6 polystyrene (PS): Another baddie, used in Styrofoam cups/containers and also some clear containers and eating utensils; it can leach styrene, a cancer-causing chemical, especially when heated.
#7 "other" (a catch-all number, when referring to polycarbonate [PC]): This leaches BPA.
#7 "other" (when applied to copolyester (Tritan): It has not been found to leach BPA, but is also not recyclable.
#7 "other" (for bioplastics): Made from plants, not fossil fuels, this has not been found to leach chemicals, but is unfortunately neither recyclable nor very reusable, and will properly biodegrade only in an industrial composting facility.
BETTER BOTTLES SHOPPING LIST
No need to toss a perfectly good new PC sports bottle! Use it with care and hand-wash it rather than in the dishwasher. (Bottles that have been heavily used, scratched, or submitted to high heat are more likely leach BPA.) When your bottle shows signs of wear, replace it with a BPA-free stainless-steel or plastic model from the following list:
TOP PICKS: LIGHTWEIGHT, UNLINED STAINLESS-STEEL BOTTLES
Enviro Products (www.enviroproductsinc.com)
Guyot Backpacker (www.guyotdesigns.com)
Klean Kanteen (www.kleankanteen.com)
Thermos makes water bottles as well as its trademark insulated bottles (www.shopthermos.com)
Reusable glass has its fans, too. A long-necked glass bottle with an attached rubber and ceramic stopper is sold at www.livinglavidaverde.net/store.aspx
BETTER PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES
Camelbak Tritan (www.rei.com)
Nalgene Tritan, or HDPE #2 (www.rei.com)
Novara PET #1 (www.rei.com)
Rubbermaid Chug Sport, Sippin' Sport, PP #5 (www.target.com or www.amazon.com)
Somafab PP #5 (www.somafab.com)
Tupperware tumblers, PP #5 (www.tupperware.com)
BEST BABY BOTTLES (NON-PC PLASTIC, OR GLASS WHERE NOTED)
Bornfree (glass) (www.newbornfree.com)
Dr. Brown's (www.handi-craft.com)
Evenflo Classics (glass) (www.ingeling.com)
Gerber Fashion Tints and Clear View (www.amazon.com)
Green to Grow (www.greentogrow.com)
Medela breast milk storage and feeding set (www.target.com)
Sassy MAM (www.mambabyusa.com)
WATER BOTTLES WITH BUILT-IN WATER FILTERS
When used according to instructions, the following portable, non-leaching plastic bottles will remove bacteria and viruses. Great for backpackers or for use in emergencies.
Aquamira Water Bottle with Microbiological Filter (www.aquamira.com)
Fit and Fresh LivPure (www.target.com)
Katadyn Micro Water Bottle (www.rei.com)
For more information, log on to www.greenerpenny.com.
ONE GREEN THING
Choose organic and locally grown produce.
Why: Organic agriculture greatly reduces exposures to pesticides in your body and the environment; buying locally preserves small farms and green space.
In My Life
I've always tried to eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, but it wasn't until I became a mother that organic produce became part of our daily life. When our child was two years old and entering preschool, I read a report that young children were being exposed to high levels of dangerous pesticides in their food. What could parents do to protect their children? We didn't want to stop feeding them vegetables and fruit. Did peeling remove pesticides? No. Could we substitute pears for apples? No. Consumer Reports tests showed that pears had high levels, too.
The solution: Organic produce was grown without these pesticides. Money was tight, but my husband and I decided that we would buy organic apples and pears, our child's favorite fruits.
BENEFITS OF ORGANIC PRODUCE
For the sake of my budget and my health, which fruits and veggies are most important to buy organic?
Buy organic for those foods you and your family eat most. It is also worthwhile to buy the organic version of produce known to have high pesticide residues. You can economize by not spending the extra on organic for things you eat only once in a while, or for the Tasty Thirteen (see the "Choose It/Lose It" table, below), which have the very lowest levels of pesticide residue.
WHEN TO BUY ORGANIC
Buy the organic version of the produce you and your family eat the most.
The Toxic Thirteen: You may also want to buy organic in the following foods, which otherwise have the highest pesticide residues:
Sweet bell peppers
Buy non-organic in foods you eat only once in a while, or those having the lowest pesticide residues.
The Tasty Thirteen listed here are generally low in pesticides and okay to buy non-organic.
Excerpted from Do One Green Thing by Mindy Pennybacker, Carolyn Vibbert. Copyright © 2010 Mindy Pennybacker. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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