Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

In 2007, activist Annie Leonard wrote and narrated the animated mini-documentary called “The Story of Stuff” about the life-cycle of material goods. The documentary explains the environmental and social issues surrounding our over-consumption of “stuff” and how this cycle of consumption and disposal can’t be sustained indefinitely.

The documentary covers issues that I think about both as an environmentalist and a professional organizer, the film helped raise my sensitivity to the disposable nature of my belongings. I remember my grandfather wore the same sweaters for years, and my grandparents watched a television that was over 15-years old. The film made me wonder why we don’t buy things to last for YEARS anymore? Why aren’t things made to last? Today, it seems that we buy things to fulfill whatever our need is for that particular moment. Once the moment passes, the item is disposed and nobody thinks about where it goes. Only to be hit by the next moment and our need to consume more. Again and again, the cycle continues.

What’s most concerning is electronic waste. Nobody wants an old-generation iPod and who cares where it goes anyway? With our amazing technological advances in the last decade, we have more electronic waste now than ever before, and the number of recyclers of discarded computers, monitors, printers and cell phones has exploded in North America. Unfortunately, many of these “recyclers” are hiding under the “recycling” name and illegally shipping e-waste to developing countries.

The dirty secret is that our electronic waste (e-waste) is exported to China, India or Africa. Developing countries have become the junk yard for the United States. The 20-minute PBS Frontline Documentary “Digital Dumping Ground”, documents the rampant dumping of toxic waste.

Luckily there are groups such as the Basel Action Network (BAN). Created in 1994, BAN has a list of “e-Steward” qualified electronics recyclers— a group of industry leaders that have 4 key principles:

  1. No dumping of toxic e-waste in developing countries

  2. No dumping in local landfills or incinerators (including waste-to-energy operations)

  3. No use of prison labor to process e-waste

  4. No unauthorized release of private data

From bottled water to computer monitors, it’s important to think about the life-span of your belongings. It’s important to purchase things that serve a purpose in your life; buy items that are going to last longer than a moment; and be conscious of how your “stuff” is disposed. Ask yourself: Can someone else benefit from your unwanted items? If so, donate your unused electronics to a local charity, school, or shelter. The idea is to flow your unused items back into the community. Ten years ago, the average lifespan of a computer was six years. Today it’s two years. Is “being on the cutting edge of technology” worth it?

The solution is three-fold:

Thoughtful consumption; reuse; and eco-friendly recycling.

These are the simple mantras we CAN and SHOULD be religiously practicing in our daily lives.


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Leaf blower in the air

Leaf blower

It’s called the outdoors, does it really have to be rid of every speck of dirt and debris? Isn’t “outside” supposed to have dirt? Leaf blowers are all the rage with gardening companies. The pictures above were taken in front of our house and is a usual sight on “gardener” days. The haze in the photos is actually particulate dust matter filling the air. It seems excessive and unnecessary for them to break out gas-powered tools to decimate the ever-so-delicate branch off of a rose bush or use a leaf blower to gather a pile of dirt that was perfectly fine sitting in our garden. The main culprit is the leaf blower and the noise and air pollution it creates. It’s obnoxious how it blows everything: leaves, grass, dirt, clots of dirt, and more dirt. It seems that a rake and broom would be sufficient, but they don’t have such tools in their truck, it’s always the b…l…o….w……e….r!! It’s the most extreme form of gardening I’ve ever witnessed. I remember when we first moved in and our landlord mentioned that we had a weekly gardener and I had pictured an elderly man in overalls with hand-held hedge clippers. Sadly, what I pictured was a romantic image that probably doesn’t exist anymore.

My landlord has been in touch with the gardening company and I’ve personally talked to them on numerous occasions, but we haven’t been successful at getting them to stop using the leaf blower (a.k.a. the dirt blowing machine). They’ll cease for a month or two, but then start again. Even though Los Angeles passed a law in 1998 that makes it illegal to use a gas-powered leaf blower within 500-feet of a residence (LAMC 112.04c), the law isn’t enforced by the city which makes it difficult to get them to stop. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to find a gardening service that don’t use gas-powered blowers.

I’ve witnessed leaf blowers being used around elementary schools and nursing homes in my neighborhood, so I decided to do some research and was very surprised to learn of both the environmental and health effects of these tools. According to the California EPA Air Quality Resources Board, each leaf-blower engine, although seemingly tiny, churns out the equivalent of the same smoggy pollution as 80 cars, each driven for 12,500 miles every year.

The website, Zero Air Pollution (ZAP) has statistics of the serious health implications created by leaf blowers. The statistics below are from the ZAP website:

  • Leaf blowers distribute debris and Particulate Matter (“PM”) for long distances.  PM consists, in part, of fine dust particles, dried bird and other animal feces, pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals, street dirt that can contain lead and carbon, and allergens such as molds, pollen, and animal dander.  PM is particularly harmful to those with cardio vascular and pulmonary problems, including asthma.  Once airborne, there is no way to contain PM. 
  • Particulate Matter (“PM”) contains both fine and coarse particles, all of which are re-suspended into the air over and over again by blowers.  They may remain, unseen, in the air we breathe for hours to days at a time.  Even when below current standards, PM is associated with increases in mortality and morbidity.
  • No studies have been done on the impact of blower use on the spread of pesticide residues.  However, there is a widespread use of pesticides in California, and the use of pesticides on home lawns is heavier than comparable area use in agriculture.

  • The medical literature shows that airborne particulate matter affect[s] lung function, and that chronic exposure to air pollutants can impair lung function permanently.
  • Road dust contains lead at highly toxic levels and up to 20 known allergens.  In residential areas, road dust contributed 5-12% of the allergens in the air. Blowers often redistribute this road dust, especially when used in or near gutters and on streets.
  • The use of multiple gas-powered leaf blowers on residential properties is increasing.  One home can have up to eight exposure incidents near their residence in a singe day.  Other reports indicate leaf-blowing use on three neighboring properties at least five days per week. 

I’ve been battling our gardening service for almost a year and will continue to keep my landlord in the loop– he is working with me on the issue. What can you do? The best advice I can give you would be to keep at it. The gardening companies work for us and are employed by us, so we have a say on how they tend to our yards. I’ve found some useful resources and links, including downloadable flyers, from the ZAP.org web site. I’ve included the ZAP.org action list and links below:

  1. Educate and Instruct Your Gardener
  2. Educate Yourself
  3. Educate the Public
  4. Educate the Press
  5. Educate Your Legislator
  6. Speak Out and Report Violations
  7. See the Presentation Materials Index for dowloadable material.

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