back to the garden

a year of greener thinking


Manufacturing, Toxins and the Traceability Challenge

A machine may be more than the sum of its parts, but, when something goes wrong, tracing the origin of those parts is becoming a problem. The component parts of devices ranging from iPads to coffeemakers are frequently made by different companies that may be located in different countries, which makes it difficult to assign responsibility when a product is defective, a recent Slate article explains.

The struggle to trace each component part matters not only in cases of error, where an accidental flaw in a device makes it dangerous. It also could have implications for product claims. Say a company claims its product is BPA-free, but some of its components are not. It it even clear which entity is legally responsible for each piece of the product? To what extent is quality control the responsibility of the company that is selling the device and making claims about the product?

These issues are increasingly important given a Wall Street Journal article that found companies’ claims that their products are eco-friendly or BPA-free are frequently false. In short, if you’re worried about plastics, you’re better off purchasing products that are glass or metal. You can’t trust companies’ claims that their products are free of endocrine disruptors or other dangerous chemicals. (Or, apparently, lead paint, if you remember the recent scandal when it was revealed that millions of toys imported from China contained lead or other dangerous substances.)

In an ideal world, government regulators or reliable private or non-profit groups would test products and let consumers know what they contain. There are great resources, such as the Environmental Working Group, that do just that (their cosmetics database is particularly impressive). But their data is not available for all products and the government’s oversight and resources are limited. Until this situation is improved, consumers are mostly on their own in researching companies and products. The diverse origins of product parts makes this task all the more difficult.


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Nick Kristof on “How Chemicals Change Us”

Nick Kristof is back with another column on the dangers of chemicals found in everyday materials, including canned foods, thermal receipts, cosmetics, plastics and food packaging. In particular, Kristof notes the Endocrine Society’s recent censure of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ban BPA in food packaging.

Kristof leaves us with a salient and disturbing question to consider: “Shouldn’t our government be as vigilant about threats in our grocery stores as in the mountains of Afghanistan?”

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Mad Cow Disease discovered in the United States (again)

The mad cow disease story is a few days old  now, but this Chicago Tribune article provides some interesting insight into problems with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s testing restrictions.  Presently, the USDA only tests a very small percentage of animals killed each year and prohibits private companies from conducting their own testing. On what planet does that make sense?

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Born to Run

An experiment conducted at the University of Arizona at Tucson suggests your “runner’s high” may be the result of natural selection.  The study, written about in The New York Times, examined whether humans are genetically predisposed to like running. The head of the study, Dr. David Raichlen, notes,

It appears from [the] study that we have the evolutionary drive to exercise. But modern man has learned to ignore it.

I’m starting to feel like The New York Times is lobbying for me to work out (I’ve been more than a little lax this month). Luckily, a friend and I just signed up for the Pride 10K in June!

Click here to read The New York Times article.

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Does exercise make you smarter?

A new study from the University of Illinois suggests that endurance exercise may improve our cognitive abilities. Click here to read The New York Times article, which suggests that exercise can slow or reverse the physical decay of the brain that begins in a person’s late 20s.

(Brain decay begins in your late 20s? My Civ Pro II grade is finally explained.)

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This Moment of January

Happy New Year from the Windy City!

January is supposed to be a time when you take a moment to examine your life. You think about your choices over the past year and question whether they were healthy or even sane (like that time in 2011 when you ate Thai food for seven days straight).

Then, if you’re like me, you dive energetically into winter’s biggest cliché: the compiling of New Year’s resolutions. (I have a weakness for lists.) I like to think of New Year’s resolutions as recyclable, since every year I pick up and dust off resolutions discarded the previous February or March.

This year, I thought I might feel a little more accountable if I wrote about my efforts (there is nothing like public shaming). At first, I worried that blogging about your New Year’s resolutions might feel a little bit like the proverbial nightmare where you’re standing in front of a large audience, naked and judged. But in a moment that was both freeing and slightly deflating, I realized no one was obligated to check this site except my parents (hi guys!) and decided to press on.

Without further ado . . .

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