All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Consumerism and its waste

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Christmas market in Lubeck...fattening, but not toxic!

Christmas market in Lubeck…fattening, maybe, but not toxic!

Christmas is coming, what to get, what to get? 

Because consumerism has a lot of waste associated with it (to say nothing of stress), Green Wednesdays, a group that I participate in, has decided to focus its December meeting by showing The Economics of Happiness, a movie that discusses consumerism, globalisation, and the good life.

(Green Wednesdays feature an environmentally-themed movie, with a speaker for Q&A, every month at Kwantlen’s Langley campus.  The next showing is on December 4th, 7pm, room 1030, 10901 Langley Bypass – everyone is welcome.)   

In this context I thought I’d share some notes I’ve given my students, about the health and environmental impacts of consumer products.

It is easy to think of toxic substances as something resulting from large industrial activities, but that would be a misconception.  In fact, most of our toxic body burden comes from consumer products (food, personal care items, etc).  Some are present as by-products or contaminants, but many are there as ingredients, despite their known health or environmental effects.  A good overview is provided by this article here, which lists some of the most common (as well as ways to avoid them).

Specific examples are found in these links: carcinogens in shampoo; flame retardants in fabric and electronics; mercury in cosmetics, and in fish; phthalates in consumer plastics.

Consumer products affect the environment, as well as human health.  Cosmetics, in particular, are poorly regulated in that respect.  Of particular interest are personal care products that contain the anti-bacterial triclosan, small plastic scrubbing beads, or nanoparticles such as silver.

Drugs and pharmaceutical products, of course, do end up in receiving waters (many of them are not broken down in wastewater treatment plants); the gamut ranges from estrogens, sedatives, caffeine, to metabolites of illegal drugs such as cocaine.

Other consumer products affect our environment in different ways; some can obstruct sewers, while others, more problematically, can strangle, suffocate or starve wildlife (plastic litter in particular).  Flushable cat litter may result in bacterial or parasite contamination of water bodies.

Art, handicraft, home-made food (like what you find at a Christmas market) are wonderful alternatives.  But if you’re still looking for a Christmas gift, you could do worse than pick a copy of the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck (2009 Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie), for your disbelieving uncle or your scoffing “whateva” kid sister.  Books ain’t toxic.


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