Category: EarthTalk

Earth Talk: Are E-Bikes Greener than Human-powered Bikes?

Dear EarthTalk: Is there any truth to the assertion that e-bikes recharged off the fossil-fuel grid actually generate fewer carbon emissions overall than conventional human-powered bikes?

— Sandy McClave, New York, NY

Well, actually, there could be … E-bike pioneer Justin Lemire-Elmore argues that e-bikes are better for the environment, at least if you compare the carbon emissions associated with producing enough extra food to fuel the rider of a standard bicycle against the emissions from coal-derived electricity used to charge an e-bike.

“Although counterintuitive that a vehicle fueled by something as dirty as coal can be considered clean and green, the fact is that food production is much dirtier,” reports Lemire-Elmore. “All things being equal, an electric bicycle produces 8.5 times less greenhouse gases than a standard bicycle.”

Lemire-Elmore goes on to argue that considerations of the carbon impact of the food we eat should take into …

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EarthTalk: How to Recycle Paint, Primer and Stains?

Dear EarthTalk: What is the best way to recycle my old and/or unwanted paint, primer and stains? – Kim Beeler, Lake Oswego, OR

Has one of the many popular shows on HGTV inspired you to renovate your own home? If so, you’re not alone! Home renovations have been on the rise the last few years in the U.S. and Canada, which can mean lots of leftover paint. Extra paint can last for years when properly sealed and stored away from extreme heat and cold, and if unneeded, can be donated to organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Keep America Beautiful. But if paint can no longer be used, what are some safe, environmentally-responsible ways to dispose of it?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 10 percent of the house paint purchased in the United States each year—about 65 to 69 million gallons—is discarded. Leftover and unusable paint …

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Earth Talk: Should I Recycle My Disposable Batteries?

Dear EarthTalk: Can I throw my old disposable batteries in the trash or is there a way to recycle them?                                                                                                            — Jennifer Brandstrom, Chicago, IL

Truth be told, those old used up disposable alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt, etc.) aren’t the environmental menace they used to be before the federal government mandated taking out the mercury, a potent neurotoxin linked to a wide range of environmental and health problems, as part of the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act of 1996. These days, in every U.S. state except California (which requires recycling of all spent batteries), it is safe and legal to throw them in the trash.

Environmental Health & Safety Online, the leading web-based clearinghouse for information on environmental health and safety, reports that today’s alkaline disposables are composed “primarily of common metals—steel, zinc, and manganese—that do not pose a health or environmental risk during normal …

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Earth Talk: Is backyard firepit smoke a health hazard?

Dear EarthTalk: Now that summer is coming, my neighbors will be firing up their backyard fire pits again, and I’m wondering if the wood smoke drifting in my open windows is a health hazard for my family and if I have any standing to require them to refrain?            — Mitch Brasky, Reno, NV

With summer approaching, many of us are eagerly anticipating the first night we can gather with loved ones under the stars around our backyard fire pits. But neighbors might have not-so-warm feelings about wood smoke entering their yards and homes. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wood smoke is a complex mixture of gases and microscopic particles, and when these microscopic particles get into your eyes and respiratory system, they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and bronchitis.

As part of its “Burn Wise” program, EPA warns that people who …

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EarthTalk: E-waste Blizzard

Dear EarthTalk: The collective impact of all the iPhones and other devices we buy, use and then discard must be mind-boggling at this point. Has anyone quantified this and what can we do to start reducing waste from such items? — Jacques Chevalier, Boston, MA dot_trans

With a record four million pre-orders for Apple’s best-selling iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, it’s more evident than ever that consumers want the latest in smartphone technology at their fingertips. A new report by analysts at German market research firm GfK determined that global smartphone sales exceeded 1.2 billion units in 2014 — a 23 percent increase over2013.

With so many new smartphones and electronics being purchased, are users disposing of their older devices properly? According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, approximately 2,440,000 tons of electronics, such as computers, mobile devices and televisions, were disposed of in 2010. Twenty-seven percent, or 649,000 …

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EarthTalk: The Link between Bacteria Resistance to Antibiotics and Factory Farming

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that antibiotics are being “overused,” as I’ve read, and what are the potential consequences? —Mitchell Chase, Hartford, CT

The development and widespread adoption of so-called “antibiotics”—drugs that kill bacteria and thereby reduce infection—has helped billions of people live longer, healthier lives. But all this tinkering with nature hasn’t come without a cost. The more we rely on antibiotics, the more bacteria develop resistance to them, which makes treating infections that much more challenging.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overuse of antibiotics by humans—such as for the mistreatment of viral infections—means these important drugs are less effective for all of us. Besides the toll on our health, researchers estimate that antibiotic resistance causes Americans upwards of $20 billion in additional healthcare costs every year stemming from the treatment of otherwise preventable infections.

A bigger issue, though, is our growing …

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EarthTalk: Improving School Lunches

Dear EarthTalk: I hear that many school cafeterias have nutrition standards no better—even worse—than those of fast food chains. What can be done about this? — Betsy Edison, Nashville, TN

Americans have done a great job making sure that our kids have something to eat at school regardless of socioeconomic status, with the National School Lunch Program providing low-cost or free lunches to upwards of 31 million students at 92 percent of U.S. public and private schools.

But that doesn’t mean the food has been especially nutritious, and public health experts say it’s no wonder our kids are more obese than ever when we feed them trans fats, salts and sodas for lunch. Kids get half their daily calories at school, so what’s for lunch there has a big impact on health and lasting eating habits.

A 2008 analysis of school lunches by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded …

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EarthTalk: Sweden’s Environmental Leadership

Dear EarthTalk: I recently heard that Sweden is the greenest country in the world. Is this true and, if so, by what standards? And where does the U.S. rank? — Raul Swain, New York, NY

It’s true that Sweden came out on top in the recently released ranking of 60 countries according to sustainability by consulting firm Dual Citizen Inc. in its fourth annual Global Green Economy Index (GGEI). Norway, Costa Rica, Germany and Denmark rounded out the top five. The rankings take into account a wide range of economic indicators and datasets regarding leadership on climate change, encouragement of efficiency sectors, market facilitation and investing in green technology and sustainability, and management of ecosystems and natural capital.

Sweden’s first place finish reflects the Swedes’ ongoing commitment to climate change mitigation and sustainability policies and practices. The country is a leader in organic agriculture and renewable energy as well …

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EarthTalk: Artificial Turf Issues

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that playing on artificial turf fields can cause cancer? If so, how can I minimize exposure for my sports-loving kids? — Melanie Witmer, Syracuse, NY

Just when you thought it was safe to play soccer on that brand new synthetic turf field, it may be time to think again. Those little black dirt-like granules that fill up the space between synthetic blades of grass and make up some 90 percent of today’s artificial turf fields are actually ground-up car and truck tires. As such they contain a host of potentially noxious chemicals that can lead to a wide range of health problems.

Four of the constituent chemicals in these “tire crumbs” (or “tire mulch”) as they are called—arsenic, benzene, cadmium and nickel—are deemed carcinogens by the International Agency for Cancer Research. Others have been linked to skin, eye and respiratory irritation, kidney and liver …

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EarthTalk: Palm Oil Production and Rainforest Destruction

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that some food purveyors are contributing to the destruction of tropical rainforests by ditching unhealthy “trans fats?” — Billy S., Salem, OR

Most public health advocates applaud efforts by processed food producers, restaurants and fast food chains to get rid of so-called “trans fats”—partially hydrogenated oils added to foods to improve texture and extend shelf life but which can aggravate heart disease. In 2013 the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) proposed eliminating trans fats altogether, but it is unclear if and when such a change will take effect. In anticipation, many big trans fat buyers have switched to palm oil, much of which comes from former tropical rainforest lands cleared for agricultural production across Southeast Asia.

“The concern is that a lot of companies will switch to palm oil in order to reduce trans fats without thinking more broadly about the health and …

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