Every day I look at the news headlines and I wonder if everyone has just gone insane. Some days I do wonder. There seems to be a definite chasm between government, big business, and conventional agriculture versus the non-conventional agriculture, small business, and the holistic and organic industries. They both believe that they are on the right path; they both believe that their cause is a true and just cause. What should an individual do in this case; you should always consider what is best for your family and for yourself, we may never get everyone to agree on a subject, but we can help an individual or family to make a difference? Let’s take and look at a few facts and explore the ways that we can make little changes with a big impact.
In 1970 a total of 72,700 tons of aluminum was used to manufacture soda and beer cans, in 1990 we used 1,251,900 tons of aluminum for the same task. In 2012 that same number had risen to 1,900,000 tons for containers and packaging according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Every day the United States generates 200 million tons of trash, or 4.3 pounds per person. Some of this is created in the manufacturing and distribution of the food and products that we consume on a daily basis, not personally created. We also consume 25 million plastic soda bottles daily, which were created using 800 million pounds of virgin plastic material. The numbers are staggering, even after we have convinced everyone to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Let’s start with reduction. The typical household throws out 10-15% of the food that it purchases; if 5% of the wasted food was recovered we would save $50,000,000 in land fill costs alone. How do we do that? Use more fresh local food, eat seasonally, this reduces the packaging requirements which reduces the number of trees cut down for paper and cardboard along with the petroleum used for plastic and the ore that has been mined for aluminum.
Conventional agriculture relies on chemicals, pesticides to kill insects, herbicides to kill weeds, antibiotics and hormones have been given to animals to increase the bulk of the animal before slaughter. University of California - Davis Health System reports that “pregnant women who lived in close proximity to fields and farms where chemical pesticides were applied experienced a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental delay”. While research continues, prudence dictates that we should remove all evidence of four classes of pesticides: organophosphates, organochlorines, pyrethroids and carbamates for our immediate areas and homes.
To limit your exposure to organophosphates, eliminate the common sources of these pesticides which include.
- Animal growth promoters, cattle treatments, flame retardants (children’s pajamas), flea treatments for pets, gasoline additives, household and garden pesticides, pesticides for crops -particularly soft fruit, vegetables and grain products (buy organic to be safe), wood infestation treatments, and mosquito sprays
Organochlorines or PCB’s are widely used as insecticides
- Insecticide sprays whether concentrated or aerosol, ant traps, reduce your plastic use, use non-chlorine bleach, chemical disinfectants, chlorine bleached paper used for tampons, toilet paper, and paper cups
Pyrethroids are a class of synthetic pesticides
· Toxic to humans and dogs, and they can be particularly lethal to cats, bees, and fish and other water-dwelling creatures. In humans, the chemicals can harm the nervous system, and high amounts can cause headache, difficulty breathing, nausea, and vomiting. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that one member of the pyrethroid class, permethrin, is "likely to be carcinogenic to humans."
· Used in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (buy organic to be safe), used to treat clothes as an insect repellant, used as flea and tick repellants, mosquito repellants, bug bombs, pet shampoo’s,
Carbamates are used as a crop protectant
· Used as a lawn and garden pesticide and is harmful to “Hymenoptera” which comprises the largest orders of insects, which includes the sawflies, wasps, bees and ants. Used in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (buy organic to be safe)
Look for environmentally safe alternatives for our pets, buy organic fruits and vegetables, and use simple household cleaners you can make at home, read all labels.
How else can we reduce waste within our households?
1. When running water, while waiting for it to get hot, capture the cold water in a one gallon jug under the sink to water your plants, fill your countertop water filter system, or hand water your garden plants.
2. Dehydrate leftovers until you fix that meal again, then you can reheat the smaller portion with the larger or use the dehydrated vegetables for a slow cooker soup and save more time in your busy schedule.
3. Buy in bulk to eliminate unneeded packaging and cost.
4. To reduce the amount of chemicals in your diet, buy organic food whenever possible, if you cannot buy organic remember to peel the fruit or vegetable prior to eating. Remember to compost any scraps from your organics produce to help feed your garden also.
5. Buy from a local farm or CSA, if this is not available start your own garden or offer to allow someone else to garden your yard and share the produce with you.
6. Eat in season, this will reduce the amount of miles that food travel to get to your table.
7. Plan your grocery shopping based on the recipes that you will cook that week, that will help to reduce overspending or impulse buying.
8. Buy powdered drinks and mix them at home instead of purchasing cases of soda and other artificially flavored drinks for our children.
9. Make larger meals that you need and freeze a portion to be reheated at a later date when you are running late, and unexpected guest arrive, or you are just tired from a busy day.
10. Keep a bottle of water in the refrigerator; this will eliminate the need to run the water to get it cold before drinking.
We are surrounded every day with harmful chemicals which can accumulate within our bodies, never showing traces of existence until they have reached harmful or even fatal levels. Read the labels, compare the names, research names that you might not be familiar with and as you eliminate one chemical at a time, note how you and your family feel after the chemical has been removed. You might not notice at first, but your body knows. We will continue to look at environmentally safe household items in future articles.
Vince Kirchner, a certified Permaculture instructor and an Ohio State University Master Gardener, is owner of Great Lakes Permaculture, Tiffin Ohio.