Thursday, July 7, 2011

People-Tested, Animal-Approved: Revisiting the Topic of Organics

Last year I wrote a post about the benefits of organic products, the difference between "natural" and "organic," and avoiding being duped by advertising. Well, a couple days ago I came across an excellent post by Jem's Room on essentially the same topic. Their post lead me to another great post on Green Options listing "fake organics," "fake naturals," "real organics," and "real naturals." To my horror, quite a few of the products I've grown to know and love were on the fake side of things. I--a former advertising copywriter--have been duped by advertising copywriting. That's the power of advertising.

It turns out that none of my bath products were certified organic. :(

Since this low-blow, I feel that it's safe to say almost every bath, body, and beauty product on the market is harmful even for its intended use unless they are USDA Certified Organic (or international equivalent). For this reason, I am no longer going to use the term "organic" and/or "natural." Why? Because they're buzz words used by advertisers that describes some of the characteristics of a product, but not all, and clearly not accurately.

Instead, I'm going to call acceptable products "USDA's" because there's no getting around that argument. I am also going to assume and accept that nearly everything these days seems to be harmful. Simply stepping outside and breathing urban air is a frightening concept for me. But as I stated in my post many months ago, my main reason for not wanting to use products with synthetic chemicals is because of animal testing. Ethically, that is not okay in my book.

So this time I did a simple Google search and looked for a credible source for "USDA's." (My actual search was "list of USDA certified organic products.") So now I have that forum post on Green Options I linked earlier, and a directory by the Organic Consumers Association. Unfortunately, neither list seems to be maintained any longer but it's a great jumping-off point for both you and I. But then I found the motherload....

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization which advocates the regulation and removal of dangerous chemicals in consumer products. They also developed the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database which has more than 65,000 products for you to search through, each of which will tell you on a scale of 0-10 how safe your products are (0 being the safest, 10 being the most toxic).

You can also search by ingredient which tells you about the ingredient in question, how safe it is, and lists all the products in their database which has that ingredient. For example, I am concerned about the use of Carmine which is perfectly safe but is derived from crushing the shells (graphic) of the Cochineal Beetle. The reddish tint is used in many different products like lipstick, eyeshadow, lollypops, and popsicles, just to name a few. There are 3,913 products listed in the Skin Deep Database that use Carmine. Gross.

That said, if you're concerned about the safety or ingredients of your soaps and whatnot, I suggest you search for it in the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. It may just be the greatest thing since sliced bread!

If you enjoyed this entry, please check out the original People-Tested, Animal-Approved blog I wrote last year!

Monday, July 4, 2011

America the Beautiful: Celebrating U.S. conservation efforts on Independence Day

On July 4th, 1776 the congressional approval of the Declaration of Independence severed direct ties between the United States and Great Britain. Since that time, we the people have celebrated the Fourth of July with family, fireworks, beer, and barbeques as a day of appreciation for this country's freedoms and accomplishments. So before the festivities begin, read about a few other reasons to have pride in the United States as not only protectors of its values and citizens, but also of land, water, and ecology.

For Purple Mountains Majesties

Mt. Whitney has an elevation of 14,505 ft and is the highest summit in the lower 48 states. Image provided by

One of the greatest achievements of the United States is its avid protection of land for the immeasurable tangible and intangible values it brings. A pioneer in environmental conservation and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, President Theodore Roosevelt once said "A nation that destroy its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people." He later went on to help protect 150 National Forests with friend and colleague, environmentalist John Muir; established the National Park Service; and passed the Antiquities Act of 1906 which protects landmarks and monuments of historical or scientific value.

The National Park Service today maintains approximately 84 million square acres of land and over 4.5 million square acres of oceans, lakes, and reservoirs. They are also joined by the Bureau of Land Management which maintains approximately 643 million square acres of surface land, 247 million square acres of which is protected as public land for recreation and conservation. The U.S. Forest Service also protects more than 192 million square acres of public land, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which manages approximately 150 million square acres of National Wildlife Refuges. These are only a few of the agencies responsible for protecting land. There are also state, local, and privately owned protected land. Seeing is believing.

'Til all Success be Nobleness

The Bald Eagle was successfully recovered and removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. Image provided by

Beyond that of land, the United States has maintained continuous effort in protecting threatened and endangered species of both flora and fauna. Congress recognized in the Endangered Species Act of 1973 that "fish, wildlife, and plants are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people." As of today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists 1,974 U.S. and foreign species as being threatened or endangered, 1,139 of which having active recovery plans. To date, the USFWS has aided in the recovery of 21 species including the Bald Eagle, American Alligator, Gray Whale, and Peregrine Falcon.

Maguire Daisy. Photo by Michelle Dela Cruz / NPS.

This year alone, we celebrate the recovery of two species: the Gray Wolf of the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Maguire Daisy. Gray Wolves are unfortunately still endangered in many other regions, but continued efforts are being made to successfully recover them. However, the Maguire Daisy was removed from the endangered species list on February 18th, 2011 and is found throughout Utah in higher elevations between 5200 and 8600 feet.

The Gray Wolf is prosperous in some regions but is still considered an endangered species. Photo by Tracy Brooks / USFWS.

From Sea to Shining Sea

Hawaiian coast. Photo provided by

But none of these efforts are possible without maintaining the integrity of our water, oceans, and atmosphere. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency both work to improve our oceans and climate by studying resources and interpreting the results; providing cleanup and manpower for disaster relief; ensuring the safety of chemicals and their usage to prevent pollution; and passing and enforcing laws to protect people, animals, and the environment.

The EPA also manages all hazardous and non-hazardous waste and recyclables under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. They are responsible for ensuring that contaminants don't effect our food, water, air, land, and oceans and are constantly attempting to improve current waste management programs.

So today when you're out barbecuing, spending time with your family, and celebrating our Independence Day, I hope you think back to some of these contributions made by the United States to protect the natural beauty of this portion of our planet. Not only are you able to enjoy this country's beauty, but so will future generations that sees beyond the years.

If you're all about the United States, maybe look into footage from last year's Puppy Bowl VII, or learn more about what Los Angeles is doing to cut down on trash.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I now pronounce you...Eco-friendly!

Long time no blog post! My apologies to you all for my absence these last few months. I assure you that it wasn't out of pure laziness, rather it was out of being overworked by my education. Now that the semester is over and I ended it with a 4.0 semester GPA, I am back to blogging!

In other news, my fiancée and I have been engaged for about a year now and we've been really honing in on the wedding plans lately. Since ecology is important to both of us, we have been coming up with environmentally friendly alternatives to some of the more traditional wedding practices. Almost everything can be bought from organic and fair trade vendors, but knowing how to go about the details is a little tougher. Here are two of our more unusual eco-friendly wedding ideas for those of you out there who are also in the same love-boat.

The rings!

Arguably the most important icon of weddings across multiple cultures since ancient times, the ring has been on the receiving end of much criticism lately in regards to conflict diamonds, or diamonds sold to fund wars responsible for the deaths of nearly four million people. For this reason, the Kimberley Process (KP) was born which is an international government regulation to ensure that diamonds are mined and traded conflict-free. Jewelers and jewelry companies now often advertise the fact that their diamonds are conflict-free and provide credentials to their customers.

A miner in Sierra Leone holding a diamond. Photo by Yannis Kontos.  Published by the New York Times, 2006.

But for those of you who still have concerns over the integrity of diamonds, you would be happy to know that diamonds weren't always the "go to" stone for marriage. In fact, diamond wedding rings were only worn traditionally in specific cultures and often came with other gemstones and styling requirements. It wasn't until the launch of the 1947 De Beers "A Diamond is Forever" campaign in which diamonds were regarded as the gem of choice because of its properties of strength and stability not found in any other stone (a rating of 10 on the Mohs Scale). Popular alternatives to diamonds include sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and cubic zirconia, however any stone with a rating of 8 or higher on the Mohs Scale is of a desired strength for wedding rings.

If you're considering a Kimberley-certified diamond or alternative gemstone, you may also be interested in buying recycled rings or having your old unwanted jewelry made into your wedding rings by a jewelry designer. Recycled jewelry is often less expensive and since it's not generally done by large jewelry corporations, it tends to add a personal touch to it. The process involves removing any stones or beads from old jewelry, melting down the precious metals, and reforging them into a wedding band. If you have them made, you and your fiancée get to decide on the design and materials with the assistance of a jeweler while also having the comfort in knowing where all the materials came from.

This modern wedding ring from Erin Jane Designs is made from 14 kt recycled gold and a white sapphire.

So whether you have your heart set on diamonds or you're getting a feel for alternative stones, there are many ways to go about the rings without feeling guilty on your wedding day!

Register with Kindness

You may be thinking to yourself, "Gift registry? That's random!" But really, there are ways to be eco-friendly when it comes to gift registry as well. One way would be have a registry somewhere that is environmentally conscious and fair trade--that's obvious. But we're going about our registry a little differently:

8"plushy from the World Wildlife Fund.
In lieu of gifts, my fiancée and I are asking our guests to adopt an endangered species through the World Wildlife Fund. As an example, when you adopt a polar bear for $50 you'll receive a polar bear plushy and other goodies while helping a critically endangered species. Then during the reception, guests could bring their plushies and take pictures together with them. This would capture the fond memory of loved ones having shared in the conservation of endangered animals. I personally would rather have that than a blender.

Yeah, it's kinda cute...but not as cute as polar bears.

If you're considering going this route but aren't really interested in the World Wildlife Fund, there's always other organizations or fund raisers you can support. Whatever is important to you and your family is what really makes this idea special. Perhaps you have a loved one who suffers from an illness and you would like people to donate to its cause. Or maybe you're involved in your local church and would prefer donations to benefit your creed. Whatever your cause, you would be sharing something that is important to you and your fiancée with the rest of your family. (And if you still really want a new blender, you can always have an alternative registry--I promise I wont tell anyone.)

When it comes to your wedding, it's important that it represents the values of you and your fiancée. If being environmentally friendly is important to you both, there's an endless amount of things you can do for your wedding to support those values. What are some of your wedding plans?

There's at least 52 other ways you can be more eco friendly in your every day life. You can also learn the history of electric vehicles, and maybe make the switch yourself!

Monday, February 7, 2011

NASA unveils our sun in 3D

Technically speaking we sort of see the sun in 3D every day, but I'd wager that most people avoid actually looking directly at it in the first place. Except kids, of course. Remember as kids when we'd try so hard to look at the sun long enough to see some detail before going permanently blind? Or was that just me?

Well, I know I'm not alone because NASA's been trying for years! Using the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) released in 2006 NASA has been able to photograph our sun in 3D. This new technology will give NASA the ability to track and predict solar weather patterns which can be disruptive to both our technology on earth and during space exploration missions.

Watch below for the 3D footage and don't worry about going blind because you can stare at it as long as you want.

Speaking of radiation, did you know that Germany is constantly plagued by radioactive boars? But if that doesn't make you raise an eyebrow, maybe salamanders that regrow their body parts will.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The crowd goes wild over Puppy Bowl VII

Today is the day of Superbowl XLV. But in more important news, today is also the day of Puppy Bowl VII! You may have heard of it.

Brought to you by Animal Planet, the Puppy Bowl features a to-scale football stadium where puppies of all shapes and sizes romp about and play with little toy footballs. But it's not all about the cuteness! Puppies who manage to bring their toys to the end-zone score touchdowns, and the referee even keeps track of unnecessary "ruffness" on the field.

Okay, I lied: it's definitely all about the cuteness. And just when you thought it couldn't get anymore precious, they bring you the Kitty Halftime Show where kitties purr and play under a disco ball until the puppies are ready to get back in the field. But that's about as adorable as it gets. Just kidding! They also have a film crew of hamster pilots and cheerleading chickens! Oh, the humanity!

So next year, you might want to reconsider your Superbowl party and have a Puppy Bowl party instead. Think of the puppies! I know I am.

If you love puppies, you should consider adopting a new friend, or maybe switch to cruel-free health and beauty products.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The three ARRR's, matey!

I am not sure where the waste hierarchy originated but many people have heard and follow its simple advice: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This concept is actually arranged in order of importance. While all three are important, environmental scientists generally agree that the #1 thing you could possibly do to help the world out as a whole is to reduce the amount of...well...everything you need. The next best thing would be to reuse what you already have. Lastly, you should recycle whatever is left over so that it can be used in other ways.

Well, it seems as though people as a whole--including myself--have been practicing the waste hierarchy backwards. I obsessively recycle just about everything I can, but it is only recently that I have learned the importance of the first two R's. I think most of us have done the basics of reducing the amount of water and energy we use: low flow toilets, energy saver bulbs, or simply turning stuff off. But there is a lot less obvious stuff out there that we can all reuse and if you think about it, reusing one thing reduces your use of other things! Here's two very easy things you can reduce and reuse:

Water Bottles
These come in a variety of forms: the traditional plastic; the trendy aluminum/stainless steel; or the progressive glass. I personally use glass water bottles because of the possible dangers and overall bad taste that comes with using plastic or metal water bottles. Glass will not leach materials from previous beverages, unlike plastic and metal ones. (Despite certain claims that they wont. If you can taste a foreign flavor in your water, it's probably due to leeching!)

Stay hydrated and look like a badass pirate while doing it! Did I mention this bottle was originally a $6 lemonade? Talk about reusing!

Still not sure about it? Consider this:

  • About 80% of plastic bottles will end up in a landfill despite the fact that about 80% of U.S. citizens have access to recycling centers.
  • Recycled plastic is usually made into carpet, clothing, new bottles, and other much-needed products.
  • Producing new products from recycled plastic uses two-thirds less energy than starting from scratch.
  • In 2008, nearly 2.5 million tons of plastic bottles and jars were thrown away.
  • Plastic photodegrades which means that it simply turns into smaller and smaller fragments. These fragments pollute soil and water and are ingested by humans and animals.
  • Tap water is tested for harmful microbiological content multiple times per day, whereas bottled water companies are only required to test their water once per week.

Shopping Bags
Unless you've been living under a rock the last 5-years or so, you might have noticed plenty of trendy old ladies bringing canvas shopping bags into grocery stores with them. Reusable shopping bags have spread like wildfire and stores now even carry them for sale which serve for both branding and shopping. But canvas bags aren't the only bags which are reusable. Plastic bags have been reusable this entire time! I've been using them in my car and for small trash bins for as long as I can remember. I've also seen dog walkers use them to pick up "land-mines" on the side of the road.

Not convinced? Maybe this will change your mind:

  • Like plastic bottles, plastic bags do not biodegrade and can be harmful to people and animals if ingested (or put over the head!).
  • Is made from fossil fuels and only tightens our grip on oil.
  • I will reiterate: Producing new products from recycled plastic uses two-thirds less energy than starting from scratch.
  • If you don't want to reuse them, plastic bags are 100% recyclable and most grocery stores these days have recycle bins for bags by the front entrance.
  • Thrift stores will more than likely also take grocery bags from you so they can use them instead. 
  • Canvas bags are pretty. See?

It's a suitcase! It's a purse! It's...a grocery bag? Yep, from Trader Joe's.

Now that you've got a head start, take a look around your house and office and think about what else you can reuse. Remember that reusing stuff isn't always just for practicality. What creative things can you think of that can be done with old clothes, dishes, glass, etc? Tell us in the comments what you came up with and stay tuned for more ways to reduce, reuse, recycle!

There's at least 52 other ways you can be more eco friendly. You can also learn the history of electric vehicles, or maybe make the switch yourself!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Dumping trash in the ocean...sometimes a good thing?

By trash, I don't mean your old fast food. I'm talking about artificial reefs. This concept was brought about the discovery of vast ecosystems created by sunk ships over the centuries. Cities and organizations are now creating these ecosystems from scratch by purposefully sinking large structures made of environmentally friendly materials.

But why bother? Well, for a few different reasons. First of all, these structures promote ecological growth. The sites attract coral, fish, sea anemones, and many other marine creatures who find food and shelter here in a vast ocean.

Photograph by David Doubilet of National Geographic.

But these sites aren't just attracting fish. Divers are also plunging headfirst to get a look at these beautiful sceneries, creating tourism in otherwise drab places.

Those who have passed on have also been partaking in artificial reefs. Instead of a traditional burial, people are opting to have their ashes intermixed with eco-friendly cement and memorialized at the bottom of the sea. Since 1998, Eternal Reefs has been helping the departed leave an oceanic legacy for their families, friends, and descendants to visit for 500 years or more.

However, some biologists fear that these reefs are detracting fish from natural reefs. Since people know quite specifically where artificial reefs are or will be located, there's a huge possibility that fishermen could further destroy dwindling populations of highly desirable fish.

But for now, both authentic and artificial reefs continue to thrive throughout our underwater world.

Did you know that Los Angeles is no longer the dirtiest city in the United States? In fact, they're doing some innovative things with their garbage as well.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How to calculate your ecological footprint.

It's easy! Let do it for you. It's a neat little quiz where you actually have your own little avatar wandering around the environment in which it takes for you to personally live the way you do. It's eye-opening seeing different things drop on the map around you that are all necessary for your current lifestyle.

Image courtesy of

I just took the quiz myself and unfortunately it would take 3.5 earths for everyone on the planet to live as I do. Not exactly the greatest results, but I'm doing my best to reduce, reuse, and recycle! Can you do better?

Don't buy your friends: rescue them!

Happy belated New Year! My apologies for my absence lately. Between the last couple months of holidays, finals, and work in general, it's been hectic trying to balance everything. Which brings me to my next topic. About a month ago I took on another endeavor: volunteering at my local animal shelter.

What you see when you first walk into the shelter I volunteer at.

I've also been paying more attention to rescue groups through Facebook such as and Pinups For Pitbulls. Because of my incessant link posting, a few friends of mine had a small debate regarding the right to purchase pets from breeders and pet stores rather than adopting from shelters or rescue groups. While that is obviously a person's right to do what they will with their own money, I personally feel that it is not only better to adopt but absolutely necessary to adopt.

Since I've been volunteering, I have seen many dogs and cats who have been sitting in kennels for 4, 6, 8 months or more, and while the shelter and its volunteers do so much to ensure that all of these wonderful animals are well loved and cared for, it angers me to think that there are those out there who have no qualms about funding breeders and puppy mills. People try to justify not getting a pet from a shelter because they think the animals there are sick, abused, or unwanted for "a reason." These are myths for most of these animals and those that are sick or have been abused receive socialization and veterinary care every day. Additionally, a lot of shelters (like the one I volunteer for) wont even adopt out sick animals until they are healthy again.

This topic was rekindled in my mind a couple weeks ago when I drove by a stray German Shepherd with a dead feral cat in its mouth. I called animal control hoping that after the dog's temperament was evaluated he would find a good home. It's highly unlikely though, given his situation. Why is it unlikely? Well, the Humane Society speaks on pet overpopulation, stating that six to eight million cats and dogs are brought to U.S. shelters every year. An average of four million potential pets are put to sleep in that same year. This amongst many other reasons which I will address below is why I feel adopting is necessary.

Why are puppy mills bad?

Puppy mill. Photo provided by the Animal Humane Society. If you have the stomach for it, feel free to Google image search "puppy mill" for a better idea of how they are. This image is "NC-17" enough for me.

Puppy mills are commercial businesses for the purpose of breeding dogs. They continually keep their dogs pregnant to get as many litters out of them as possible until they become infertile or die. These dogs live in disturbingly poor conditions with limited veterinary care, companionship, and space. The reason these mills continue to operate successfully is due to the sale of puppies online and in pet stores by unaware and uninformed customers. Despite every effort made by animal rights groups to stop puppy mills, they continue to remain legal in much of the United States due to loopholes.

Why are breeders bad?

First of all let me clarify that not all breeders are "bad breeders." The problem is that without seeing the conditions in which dogs are bred, it's hard to know who the good ones vs. the bad ones are. A lot of breeders, for example, are no better than puppy mills--just on a smaller scale. Also, a lot of breeders sell online and are willing to tell you exactly what you want to hear rather than the whole truth of the matter. How will you know the difference?

The main concern with breeders as a whole, including the "good ones," is that they are continuing to add to the population of domestic animals. People are attracted by the idea of breeders because they have a false sense of hope about the outcome of pure breeds or dogs simply raised in "ideal" conditions (not always the case). Unfortunately a lot of buyers regret their purchase, attempt to return their pet to no avail, and end up surrendering their pet to animal shelters.

The ASPCA itself is not against breeding dogs by any means, however they do have a Criteria for Responsible Breeding Checklist which they feel should give you an idea of what to look for when you do choose to purchase an animal from a breeder. Please do your research on breeders through the Better Business Bureau, the ASPCA, your local Animal Control facility to ensure that the breeder you are purchasing from doesn't have any complaints or abuse cases against them. Sometimes you'll even find this information online from people who have publicized their complaints on unethical and abusive breeders.

So where should I get my new companion?

Animal shelters or rescue groups, of course! Shelters provide a lot of services to you and your future pets including spaying and neutering, veterinary assistance, counseling, and significantly lower costs. Shelters also ensure that dogs are tested for temperament before being released to the public for adoption. That means that you are likely to find a dog who gets along with other dogs and children. Counselors will meet with you to assess your needs prior to adoption, and provide you with the time to get to know your future friend.

But if you really feel uncomfortable with adopting or you have your heart set on having a pure breed, please remember to do your research. If you do come across unethical treatment of animals, try to do your part to report it as well to your local Animal Control facility. It's one thing to buy your friends, but it's a whole 'nother to rescue them!

Jupiter (left--may he rest in peace) was found homeless by a couple who couldn't keep him so my mom and I loved him for many years (and still do)! We adopted Phoebe (right) from a shelter and she is now living happily ever after in Northern California with my mom, brother, and sister-in-law.