Posts Tagged ‘water quality’

Polystyrene cups

December 22nd, 2014

styrofoam cupsUA_Recycle-Cup-524x210Some days I forget to bring my thermos of tea to work with me.  When I buy beverages-to-go, I occasionally get a cup that is made of polystyrene – you know it as Styrofoam.  This always surprises me because I forget that not everyone is obsessed with compostable disposable dinnerware like I am.

I understand the use of polystyrene- it is lightweight, keeps your coffee hot and the your fingers not. However, polystyrene is a non-renewal material, does not break down and contaminates air, water and soil when manufactured as well as when it is discarded. Polystyrene containers are designed to keep contents at the same temperature over a period of time. That’s why it is used in portable coolers that are used many times.  A cup of coffee is usually consumed within 20 minutes as long as the liquid has a chance to cool enough to drink. I think the properties of polystyrene are wasted for this particular use.  A paper cup with a cardboard sleeve will keep your hot beverage at drinkable temperature and can be recycled or composted when you are done with it.

A check on solid waste statistics reveals that 25-30% landfills are polystyrene and plastics. Polystyrene is lightweight, floats in water and is considered the main component of trash in the ocean. Also, the chemicals that make up polystyrene are incredibly harmful.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services , added styrene — the chemical used in the manufacture of Styrofoam cups and food containers — to its list of substances “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer. Styrene has also been linked to nerve damage and hormonal disruption.

There are some businesses like airlines that are exploring better materials for their disposable containers. Plant based foam-composite materials are beginning to show up in place of the polystyrene containers.

This holiday season, pay attention to the disposable containers you use for gatherings.  Choose compostable or recyclable and make arrangements to dispose of them properly instead of tossing them in the trash. Get ideas for green holiday entertaining at Reclaim Your Holidays.

If you buy beverages in disposable containers, please educate your local beverage retailer about polystyrene and ask them to replace their beverage containers with compostable or recyclable materials.

Oh, and remember your travel mug.  Happy Holidays!


Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , ,

Don’t flush!

December 18th, 2014

medications hazardous waste If you are doing some deep cleaning before the holidays or plan to do some while on break, think about disposal of those items you no longer need.  I tend to do fall ‘spring’ cleaning and my recent purge resulted in a moderate pile of expired medications and supplements, 2 boxes of items to donate and a tote full of rarely used or toxic household cleaners. The donated items were the easiest to deal with.  The medications and household cleaners are a bit more complicated.

First rule – DON’T flush these items.  Because I didn’t want these to find their way into the water supply, I discovered there are ways to dispose of both safely. Medications should not be shared with another person. Most medications can be taken to your local pharmacy and they can dispose of them properly. If it is a controlled substance (your pharmacist can tell you which are) those medications must to taken to you local law enforcement center.

Toxic cleaners can be taken to your local landfill or other hazardous waste disposal site. You can find out which items are considered hazardous at this Environmental Protection Agency website. In Iowa, there are free collection sites to dispose of your household hazardous waste. Some communities host a hazardous waste disposal day, too. Check with your local city or county government to see if there is one scheduled near you.

Keep our water clean! Where is YOUR hazardous waste disposal center?



Energy, Environment, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , , , , , , , ,

Doggy doo, diapers, water quality

April 18th, 2012

Do you ever find yourself in the middle of strange conversations? I was in a group of grandmothers debating the virtues of cloth versus disposable diapers.  Presumably one of the grandmothers’  friends was sewing diaper covers for a baby-to-be and asked me about what is in the diaper liners.  “Beats me,” I said, and that question sent me on a goose chase of information about human waste and landfills. I was intrigued by this article written by an environmnental professor at Dartmouth  My perception is that although both disposable and cloth diapers are energy intensive in diffferent ways, the use of cloth diapers puts the waste back into the water treatment system (municipal or septic), not in the landfill to potentially seep into our water supply. That seems more environmentally friendly to me. I mean what are we going to do, make the baby stop? It also points to the benefit of early potty training! However, that is another subject entirely!

Then the lunch conversation changed to pet poo – yes it was lunch – sorry. I hadn’t thought deeply about this issue before either. If we were in a public area, we used to collect Poochy’s treasures in a plastic bag, and deposit it in the nearest garbage can after the walk. It went to the landfill, probably seeped into the water supply along with the myriad unsavory things I can’t mention here. Well, maybe I could, I AM talking about excrement . . . anyway.  I actually thought that leaving it on the ground was better because the soil & plants could use it, until I learned that stormwater washes it off of our mowed landscapes and directly into the streams and rivers, bypassing any filtration possibilities. I paused long enough to wonder if flushing was a better place to deposit the doggy doo, too, since that goes into treatment. I wonder if there is water quality testing near dog parks? What do they do to prevent contaminated runoff?

I made my contribution to the landfills in two different counties when my children were of diaper ages. Sorry, future grandchildren, I didn’t know the diapers would still be there when you were born!  It is these strange conversations that help me stay conscious of how my everyday decisions impact the earth as well as my human and creature companions. 

If we think of waste as a resource, then what are the possiblities? Bet you hadn’t thought of THAT before!

Kristi Cooper

Energy, Environment, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation , ,

What is a Watershed?

November 16th, 2011

You HAVE to get the latest  Learning Farm DVD from your local Cooperative Extension office!  It is called ‘Out to the Lakes’.  It has great scenes of West Okoboji, beautiful music and interesting interviews.  It is accompanied by a new book, “Water Quality Matters To Us All”, that examines water quality from diffferent perspectives. It summarizes the listening sessions conducted 2008-2010 by the Iowa Learning Farms staff in a study funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Heartland Regional Water Coordination Initiative, as USDA/NIFA project.

 The first question they ask people is “What is a Watershed?”   How would you answer that question?

Kristi Cooper

Connection with Nature, Environment, Public policy, Water quality & conservation , ,