Tuesday, April 15, 2014

One or more of these is probably on your body right now.

What are you wearing?

Linen- Linens are known for the “breathability” and are favored in hotter climates. Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant in a rather laborious manner. The word “linen” is used loosely, and can mean any general fabric or style of clothing and it is constantly evolving; this is part due to the fact that linen is one of the oldest textiles.  While organic linens are considered completely safe and free of toxins, it’s important to be aware that linens are often woven with other filler materials and are not always properly labeled.
Cotton- Cotton is one of the most heavily cultivated crops in the world, accounting for the use of nearly for 2.5% of the world’s viable growing lands. Due to its high demand, cotton, and its cultivation have changed over the years. BT pesticides were heavily used, which caused “pests” to become resistant, which lead to the cultivation of GM cotton crops.  The U.S. GM cotton crop was 4.0 million hectares in 2011, the second largest in the world, although the demand for organically grown cotton is on the rise. Cotton’s international monetary trade value is roughly $ 12 billion annually. Like Linen, cotton is often blended with other fibers to create an end product.
Polyester- Polyester is categorized as a group of polymers, when speaking of fabrics; “polyethylene terephthalate” is typically what is being referred to.  Polyesters can be comprised of naturally occurring chemicals, but are more than often comprised solely of synthetics created through a process called “step-growth polymerization”.  Very few types of polyesters are biodegradable.  Polyesters are widely used, and can be seen everywhere from your sofa to your belt to your shoes and your car tires.  Polyester fabrics are sometimes seen as favorable to those seeking clothing that is “wrinkle resistant” and “durable”.
Nylon-Nylon is a group of synthetic polymers that create a “silky” material that gained popularity in the late 1930’s. This material was quickly seen everywhere. It is used to create; stockings, toothbrush bristles, carpet, rope, parachutes, tires, clothing and so on.  There are several ways nylon is created, through chemical productions that involve the combination of molecules with an acid creating a type of thermoplastic that can then be manipulated in to one of several types of nylon. Nylon has many notable characteristics that make it favorable for many industries; high resistance to mold, fungi and insects, very durable, variation/ease of manipulation and it melts instead of burns.
Spandex- Spandex has many names, it is known for its extreme flexibility and durability. Spandex is widely used in sportswear, but has seen increased usage as we prefer clothing that stretches. It is preferred by active individuals due to its ability to dry, or wick sweat and water quickly. There are 4 main ways in which spandex is created though the “dry spinning method” is used to create roughly 95% of the world’s spandex fibers. This process begins with the creation of a “prepolymer” which is done by mixing two different monomers. The solution is reacted with an equal portion of diamine, creating what is called a “chain extension reaction” at which point a solvent is added to make the solution more pliable. It is inserted into a cylindrical spinning cell where it is converted into fibers. The fibers are then treated with yet another chemical, to prevent sticking and bunching.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Are your clothes making you sick?

They could be and the processes involved in creating them could also be harming the environment too! You might ask yourself what you can possibly do to protect yourself and your habitat. Well the first step is to get educated about what goes into your clothes and their manufacturing. 

Just click on the image below and head over to Greenpeace to find out more about what clothes could be toxic and why.

After you've become a clothing toxicity expert the next step is to take action. Making smart choices when buying clothes is a big step but often times its not enough. While you and many others might be making the best choices possible in your day to day life the fact remains that many companies will continue to create clothing using dangerous levels of toxic chemicals.

What can you do? Well you can take a look at California proposition 65 which was enacted in the mid 80s to learn more about what chemicals are considered toxic. Then you can find and ask your representatives what they are doing to ensure local goods are made safely. If nothing comparable exists you should encourage them to draft a local measure like California 65.

Remember to shop smart and check back here often for more updates!


            The toxic chemicals that are used in the manufacturing and production of textiles are often less recognized than the toxic chemicals that are present in our food and water. But these toxins are just as important. Every person wears some form of clothing every day, which exposes them to a multitude of various toxic chemicals that are harmful to both humans and the environment. Awareness of the negative effects of these toxins has been increasing over the years, which has led to the search for less harmful and more sustainable alternatives to the processes and products that are used to manufacture and produce textiles. One particular group of chemicals that has gained attention over the years is perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). PFCs are used in the manufacturing and production of many products, such as food packaging and clothing. Specifically, PFCs have the ability to make a product resistant to oil, stain, and water. This makes the usage of PFCs as a water-proofing agent extremely effective for outdoor apparel. One of the most popular brands of water-proof fabrics to utilize the properties of PFCs is Gore-tex, which first appeared during the 1970s when it became commercially available on many products being sold by companies such as Columbia Sportswear.

            So what is the problem with PFCs? Some PFCs bio-accumulate in humans and the environment and do not degrade by natural processes. This means that they remain in the environment as persistent organic pollutants and act as greenhouse gases. Studies show that PFCs are present in the wastewater from PFC manufacturing plants and drinking water near PFC manufacturing plants in multiple states. Data from these studies have indicated that PFCs can cause several types of tumors and neonatal death, as well as toxic effects on the immune, liver, and endocrine systems of mammals, fish, and bird wildlife. While PFCs have been produced, used, and disposed of without regulation for the last sixty years, new regulations are being implemented to reduce their impact on the environment. Numerous investigations by the EU and EPA have been conducted that address the negative impact that PFCs have on the environment, though the relationship between PFCs and human health effects are still fully unknown.

Figure 1: Global PFC emissions by world region (1970-2005).
click image to enlarge)

Figure 2: PFCs in women ages 16-49 years (1999-2008).
source: http://www.epa.gov/ace/biomonitoring/pfc.html
(click image to enlarge)

Additional resources:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Finding Local Food

Sometimes finding local food can be overwhelming. It helps if you know where your local farmer's market is, but what happens if you don't?

If you're looking for local food, but don't know where to start, the Eat Well Guide is a database of local sustainable food that has an advanced search tool that allows you to search by keyword, zipcode, city, product, production method, and more.

For example, you could search for lamb that has never been administered antibiotics in its lifetime, or organic produce within 10 miles of your home.

Happy searching!

Make a Difference in Your University!

 The Real Food Challenge is a tool available for university students to bring local and sustainable food to their schools.

The Real Food campaign is run by students nationwide asking schools to pledge to increase their commitment to "real" food on their campuses. The site offers all the resources and support you need to start a campaign at your school, including step by step information about how to initiate change.

Students campaigning with the help of the Real Food Challenge have already secured pledges of over $50 million worth of dining budgets from 19 universities since 2008.

What makes the Real Food Challenge especially powerful is that as individuals committed to sustainable eating, the impact we can make is still limited by the size of our budgets, but by banding together and asking a university to support that commitment, we effect much greater change.

Peak Oil and the Importance of Local Food

The documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil demonstrates how Cuba experienced "artificially imposed peak oil" after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s when it lost most of its food and oil imports. Cuba responded by transitioning to an organic agricultural system of locally produced food, with a high degree of community support and interaction.

Our current system of travelling food is highly dependent on nonrenewable resources which we are depleting at an ever increasing rate. There are concerns about food security as we approach peak oil. In this context, the discussion about local food will likely eventually become one of necessity. Many have suggested that Cuba is an excellent model for avoiding food shortages.

Eating Local with Limited Resources

All across the US, and even internationally, there are campaigns promoting local food. The arguments in favor of eating local are numerous. Eating local is healthy, it puts money back into the community, is better for the environment and does not waste our quickly dwindling fuel resources. 

Sometimes, however, the problem is not educating people about the benefits of local food, but making it accessible to them. Food deserts are a major issue in the US, and for some people, finding healthy food options is nearly impossible, let alone local ones. Farmers markets and specialty grocery stores are a resource that may be too expensive, but not only that, they may only be found in more affluent neighborhoods. 

One response to the lack of healthy local food options in food deserts has been the guerrilla gardening movement. In the TED talk below, guerrilla gardener Ron Finley talks about how he has reclaimed abandoned spaces in his South Central LA community and turned them into urban gardens which are able to provide healthy food at a low cost.