Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Get your BPA FREE with each new bottle!

Roughly a year ago one of the first studies showing that BPA, the known estrognic plastic used to make polycarbonate bottles, leached into liquids under extreme conditions of heating and rigorous washing was published to much fanfare. The study raised a serious issue, although it seemed that unless you were routinely heating your liquids in a well washed bottle (huh? wash my water bottle? In the dishwater?) – a problem clearly relevant to new parents, but not so to folks like me who were done reproducing – ridding the household of all polycarbonate wasn’t a high priority. While I did replace the kid's bottles with the now suspect PET bottles (more on that one later) the old polycarbs still went to the tennis courts and up Mount Toby with me. I just couldn’t justify adding more plastic so the recycle or waste cycle so as long as I had it, I used it. Same with the gem-colored polycarb juice glasses we’ve used for years.

Well, as usual with chemicals we’re just getting to know more intimately than we’d like, there's always one more study that makes us wonder if "we've" really done our best when it comes to using chemicals wisely. This time it's a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health which reports that BPA molecules really don’t need all that much coaxing to be released from bottle to water. In fact, just regular use, filling them up with cold liquids and drinking was enough to raise concentrations of BPA in the urine of polycarb bottle using Harvard students.

After one week of drinking all their cold beverages from Nalgene Lexan bottles (could you fill this bottle rather than that beer stein please?), and peeing into a cup during the designated hours of 5-8PM, students increased their pre-polycarb urine concentrations by 69%. In other words – you get a little BPA with your water even if you don’t heat it up and abuse the bottle.

Given that the very young (newborns and infants) tend to retain their BPA a bit longer (because their metabolic system which clears chemicals like BPA is less active than adults) this study, one of the first to show that normal use of polycarb means exposure to BPA, should give pause to any parent still using the old polycarb baby bottles. It’s certainly enough to push me to take those pretty gem-colored juice glasses and relegate them to the craft cabinet.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Very Disney Earth Day 2009

It took some digging, but the “Disney World Envirodisaster” article is now being replaced by a more circumspect, “They May be Behind the Times, but Maybe They’ve got Good Intentions,” article.The one week Disney Extravaganza organized by my daughter’s dance school (about 70 young dancers with parents in tow) which is what landed me in Disney, was, and was not, exactly what I’d expected.

The dancing plastic fairies, plastic pirates, plastic Mickey, plastic plastic at every turn, artificial ponds, and fried food mixed in with messages of conservation and recycling was expected – that I actually enjoyed myself as Disney was a pleasant surprise. The messages of conservation (in the “Circle of Life” Simba stops Timon and Pumba from laying waste to the land to build their vacation resort) by the organization whose originator “secretly bought up thousands of acres in Florida” to build a vacation resort (a boast you can hear on your Hollywood Studios back-lot tour) not only gave me more whiplash then the Test Track ride, but also left me wondering if this wasn’t the very definition of hypocrisy. Yes I know, they’ve devoted much land to conservation, and they did that back in the day, and they do convey the message through their movies. But there’s also plenty of land buried beneath layers of asphalt thanks to Disney and a whole lot of energy and resources devoted to marketing products that are broken or tossed within a few short years (but of course being plastic, will last for many, many more.) Not that hypocrisy is anything new – our political system thrives on it – but these hypocrites are directly addressing our kids. The Kids of America.

How do you explain to your kids, after Pumba and Timon’s parting message: recycle, recycle, recycle , that apparently there is no recycling (or no obvious recycling) in Disney’s Sunshine Season Food Fair located just outside the theater? Thankfully at least we weren’t eating surrounded by a sea of plastic dishes, plates and boxes, but rather paper plates – chalk one up for Disney. I guess they didn’t want to add to the billions of pounds of plastics released into the oceans each year – although I’m not sure what they plan to do with all the plastic utensils.

OK so I’m a skeptic. Hailing from Massachusetts’ Happy Valley, where small organic farm stands dot the road-side, solar panels gleam from yards and rooftops and where you can mix up your “leaf green” Prius with the five others in the parking lot – Disney is, indeed, another world. “You just have to let your brain float,” says one mom, as we sip acid coffee from styrofoam cups in a fish and chips joint in the even more befuddling and depressing Downtown Disney awaiting our children’s “Disney Performance of a Lifetime.” Maybe it’s a small price to pay to watch them smile, sing and hoof their way through a twenty minute routine they’d been rehearsing since September.

After a week of scribbling notes, while admittedly enjoying the parks (Animal Kingdom was my favorite – and yes I do reluctantly consider myself a hypocrite) I vow to look up Disney’s enviro record upon returning home. Something I look forward to after a week of Disney food, which my daughter observed, no matter what we got always seem to come out to be $16 per person. Pricey, but on a per calorie basis it’s quite a deal - the “single serving” chocolate cake is 200 calories “per serving,” and each little single foil serving dish provides 3 servings. Gobbling down my cake, I wouldn’t have noticed that little caveat had my friend Kata not pointed it out. So, upon returning home and doing a little digging, I was surprised to read about Disney’s commitment to “providing healthier options for families that seek them.” Either I wasn’t seeking hard enough or that must refer to the small packets of carrot sticks you can get with your chicken fingers and chocolate cake. Hooray.

Reviewing their Corporate Responsibility Report with a hefty dose of skepticism (rather than simply dismissing Disney based on experience) took some effort, not because there’s much content or detail but, because after going to the parks it’d be easy to write them off. They have grand plans and apparently they’re just getting started according to their 2007 “Enviroport”:

Last year, Disney President and Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Iger appointed an Environmental Council of senior executives from across the Company. The Council is putting into place a comprehensive plan to analyze and implement sustainable long-term strategies for minimizing Disney's impact on the environment within an ambitious corporate growth strategy. The Council includes members from a wide variety of academic and professional backgrounds, including biologists, chemists, engineers, and government affairs specialists. Together, they are taking a measured approach to the complex and important set of tasks at hand, frequently seeking expert external advice as part of the policy-making process.

Like I said, you wouldn’t know it to visit the parks except maybe the part about corporate growth. If they’re conserving water in the parks why don’t they tell that to visitors? If they’re conserving electricity with LEDs, why don’t they let folks know? It’s almost as if they want to make sure they’re not seen as environmental educators, because after all, girls, like Jasmine, Cinderella and Snow White just want to have fun.

Although we did finally find recycling bins dotting the streets of Disney World, we wondered if maybe some Disney robotic squirrels were out back separating Sunshine Season’s trash. Maybe they were. Seeking information on Disney’s recycling programs I couldn’t’ find much, except a comment on another blog who also wondered about recycling at Disney:

Comment by Joe Shelby

2007-07-27 12:12:47

On the backstage tour, while showing us the VACKS (sp?) vacuum based trash system (also discussed in the Modern Marvels documentary - the main outlet site is backstage @ frontierland behind Splash Mountain, where it’s intentionally downwind, and downhill, of the park), our tour guide discussed how the trash is sorted, by hand (well, with tools to avoid touching it) for recycling and biodegradable materials as it’s brought into the landfill a mile away. They don’t bother with separate recycling bins because they’re often ignored, create an eyesore (and a violation of theme) in certain parts of the park, especially Main Street, and get filled with trash anyways by foreign tourists and ignorant bafoons who don’t know or don’t care what the recycling symbol means.

But they do recycle. Otherwise, he said, their landfill a mile away would have been filled up years ago.”

Interesting, but pathetic. Even more pathetic was Disney’s tribute to Earth Day when we happened to be stationed at the Magic Kingdom. A few hours set aside for Jimminy Cricket photo-ops, and a kiosk that could have been more effective had it been designed by a bunch of school kids rather than Disney’s Imagineers. Notably, and obviously there was a plug for their movie Earth and I suppose their offer to plant a tree for each ticket purchased during the first week is part of their green growth strategy. I just wish they were a bit more “out” about their enviro-plans at the parks where over twenty million people – that’s a heck of a lot of impressionable kids - visit a year. If anyone can teach the “kids of America” to respect their environment, reduce, recycle and reuse, Mickey, Jasmine and Prince Charming ought to be up to the task. Maybe then some Disney disciple might go home and say hmmm, how about we ditch the plastic, turn off the lights and reused the water, just like Mickey does?