Bugs Love Our Waste


New Yorkers have always had a symbiotic relationship with rats on the subway tracks, pigeons swooping down from trees and rooftops, and squirrels dodging in and out of traffic.  All in pursuit of the food we litter about our cities.

A study, which was published in the educational journal Global Change Biology found that millions of tiny insects are also picking up after us.

Researchers working in Manhattan’s parks and street medians set out to measure the population of ants, millipedes, mites, spiders, etc.  They placed Ruffles potato chips, Nabisco Nilla Wafers and Oscar Mayer Extra Lean Franks in cages that allowed insects in but kept rats, squirrels and other vertebrates out.  After 24 hours, they returned to see what had been consumed.  By sucking the bugs into aspirators, they found over 16,000 arthropods, including 32 different species of ants.

100% of the food placed out for insects only, on a third of the street medians, was consumed.  Twice that amount was eaten, where all animals had access to the same food.  This suggests that vertebrates and insects can thrive on the same littered junk food diets.

The researchers attracted a lot of attention from passersby.  While some New Yorkers thought studying their urban insects was really interesting, most just wanted to learn how to get rid of them and to tell their infestation stories to eager listeners.

Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt, a research associate at North Carolina State University and lead author of the study’s paper said, ” it highlights a very real service that these arthropods provide.  They effectively dispose of our trash for us.”  Urban ecology is not widely researched because its so much more favorable to study in a protected natural area.  “But,” she added, “more than half the world’s population lives in cities.  We have to decide how the organisms living around us provide us with services or disservices.”

The researchers estimate that in a single, block-long median strip, over a period of five to eight months, New York’s premier street cleaners – the arthropods – can consume over one ton of discarded junk food each year.  That amount of food garbage looks like 60,000 hot dogs, 200,000 Nilla Wafers, or 600,000 Ruffles potato chips.

Levi Fishman, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene spokesperson, said,  “This study confirms that street litter, particularly discarded food, is a major draw for rats and other pests.  The public really needs to dispose of garbage in one of the many trash receptacles throughout the city.”   Pests like pigeons, rats, and flies, harbor and spread human pathogens.  And, cleaning up after sloppy eaters costs NYC over $11billion/year.  For facts about litter click on  https://www.ncdps.gov/Index2.cfm?a=000001,002895,002903

The study’s team thinks that future work should explore the conditions “favoring the competitive advantage of arthropods as food removers in cities.”   Future urban habitat managers could create environments that favor ants over rats, benefitting the public’s health.  We could make our city environments perform more constructive functions.

We all learn, from an early age, that insects are important in the natural environment.  This study shows that they are critical in urban areas, as well.

“You may not like ants,” Dr. Youngsteadt said, “but you probably like rats much less.”

I personally couldn’t agree more!   This spring’s infestation of ants, in our kitchen, would not have been even remotely tolerable if all those scurrying little creatures were rats.


Sunscreen: Waste or Wonder


Last year I underwent a treatment for removing loads of basal cells on my face from too much exposure to the sun.  I never used sunscreen under the intensity of the famous New Mexico rays so I am not conditioned to apply it when I am in the sun.  Now, Martin adamantly reminds me to lather it on every time we kayak.

Sunscreen offers protection from UV rays, reduces the risk of skin cancer, and even slows down signs of aging.  Not so much for marine life though.  Sunscreens contain chemicals for UV protection, color, fragrance, and texture that create the all too familiar iridescent sheen on the surface of water that compromises marine life.

People have been lathering on these products for decades and the effect of sunscreens, as a source of introduced chemicals to the marine system, has not yet been addressed.

Craig Downs, executive director of the Global Coral Repository and the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory has been looking at the effect of cosmetic chemical byproducts in coastal waters for years.  His particular concern is how they affect coral reefs because he is collecting coral reef DNA like the seed bank is collecting seed DNA. http://www.haereticus-lab.org/index.html

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration published a study demonstrating that a common UV absorber found in over 380 different product lines of soaps, laundry detergents, cosmetics, and body fragrances is highly toxic to corals.  This chemical, benzophenone-2, commonly known as “BP- 2”, is released into the environment through waste-water discharges from cities, residents, boats, sewage and people swimming.  Once in the environment, BP-2 can quickly kill juvenile corals at very low concentrations.

Craig Downs was initially tasked to investigate the decline of coral reefs in the Virgin Islands National Park.  He explored many different components that can stress coral life, from pesticides to other sunscreen ingredients like titanium dioxide, TiO2.  He found major changes in baby coral caused by these chemical additions to the water.

The element titanium is finding more and more applications.  Titanium metal is used in aerospace, sports and medicine.  But, over 96% of the worldwide use of titanium is in the oxide form.

Paint’s high gloss and rich depth of color is titanium dioxide.  It replaced lead that was dangerously used in paint for years.  It is a coloring agent for food, cosmetics, and crayons.  It is the UV protection in sunscreens and many other products we use every day.

Titanium dioxide is like a miracle chemical!  Its disinfectant and self-cleaning qualities  are used in coated ceramic tile, reported to last the life of the tile and activated by a UV light source and water.  Other applications are coated self-cleaning roof tiles for homes and buildings activated by the UV light of the sun.

TiO2 is used to treat the air in fruit, vegetable and cut flower storage areas to prevent spoilage and increases the products’ shelf life.  The photocatalytic properties of TiO2 remove ethylene gas, a naturally occurring gaseous hormone produced by plant tissue, internal combustion engines, certain fungi, and cigarette smoke.

Titanium dioxide protects the skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays by scattering the rays or absorbing them before they reach the skin.  Both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays have been scientifically proven to cause skin cancer, therefore a good sunscreen needs to cover both the UVA and UVB spectrum of radiation.  The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a broad-spectrum product (meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB) with an SPF of at least 30.  For the best protection, it should be reapplied frequently (every 1-3 hours depending on activity level) while in the sun and immediately after swimming or sweating, so that means a lot of sunscreen!  And applied more is better!!! Yikes!

Sunscreens can be classified into two major types: chemical and physical.  Chemical sunscreens have ingredients that absorb and reduce UV radiation penetration into the skin.  These sunscreens are popular because they provide good protection while being invisible and feeling light on the skin.  Many of these sunscreens are also reasonably priced making them a great choice for many people.

Physical Sunscreens are products containing ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which reflect and block UV radiation. Because these products are made of small particles that sit on the surface of the skin, they can be cosmetically unacceptable to some people, because they can leave a thick, white film.  However, with newer formulations, the zinc or titanium particles are miniscule, in effect rendering them “invisible” on the skin.  The process to manufacture these cosmetically elegant products is more involved, therefore this type of invisible zinc or titanium sunscreen is often more expensive than other products.

Environment & Energy Publishing is an online media company that covers environmental/energy policy and markets.  Based in Washington, D.C., it publishes approximately 70 global energy and environmental news stories each day and has some of the most extensive coverage on issues like sunscreen.

In addition, the Environmental Working Group has thorough research on sunscreens and a website that gives the consumer great information about each brand on the market.  http://www.ewg.org/about-us 

There are a lot of sunscreens out there: some good, some bad and then some shameful.  All sunscreens benefit by the positive media coverage they get.  They are very inexpensive to produce with very high profit margins, so false claims are easy for manufacturers to get away with.  Be aware that:

Spray sunscreens can be inhaled and they don’t cover skin completely.

SPF values above 50 try to trick you into believing they’ll prevent sun damage.  SPF protection tops out at 30 to 50.

Oxybenzone, a common ingredient,  can disrupt the hormone system.

Retinyl palmitate, another common ingredient, may trigger skin damage and possibly cancer.

Banana Boat, Coppertone, CVS, and Neutrogena are some of the top brands that have the worst products.

How You Can Help:

  • Wear clothes that reduce exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
  • Find or make shade.
  • Don’t get burned.
  • Wear sunglasses.
  • Avoid Vitamin A skin applications when exposure to sun is great.
  • Check the UV Index and become familiar with what it measures. http://www.epa.gov/fla/facts/uv/uv_query.html
  • Plan your activity around the most intense direct sun exposure.
  • Be aware that your sunscreen application may be harming the marine life you spent so much money to see!

Until next week,  images-2

Garbage Girl






Drug Waste in Our Water

Damien Hirst Exhibition of Medicine Cabinets

Damien Hirst Exhibition of Medicine Cabinets

My friend, Eddie, just experienced an excruciating month of pain due to a herniated disc in his lower back.  Meds were prescribed to help before injection treatments and physical therapy could be scheduled.  Now he has to dispose of the unused drugs.

This brings to light the increasing amount of pharmaceutical and personal care products that are entering our water system.  Perfumes, cologne, lotions, sunscreens, caffeine, prescription drugs and over the counter medications are all ending up in our drinking water.

Even the “champagne” of water coming from NYC’s highly monitored and pristine reservoirs has measurable amounts of these substances.  Since human health risks are not yet established the tests were not included in their final reports.  Conclusive studies are, however, showing that marine life is affected. Just google fish drugs water.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stopped recommending flushing unwanted pharmaceuticals down the toilet.

Flushing unwanted pills is only one of many ways drugs get into our drinking water.   Our bodies metabolize just a small fraction of the drugs we take so the remainder is excreted.

Drugs in the form of creams or lotions are showered off.

Medical facilities discard large amounts of drugs.  Pharmacies have strict disposal rules and regulations but many elder care or out patient facilities and clinics do not.

Drug manufacturing causes pharmaceutical water pollution.      http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1656/20130571

Agriculture is another major source.  The trillions of pounds of animal waste generated by large-scale poultry and livestock operations in the USA is laced with hormones and antibiotics fed to animals to make them grow faster and to keep them from getting sick.  Stock yards are not exactly sealed off environments.

Sewage treatment plants are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals from water.  Some pharmaceutical contamination is removed when water goes through conventional treatment methods that could result in a 90% decrease in the amount of ibuprofen and naproxen, but has little effect on carbamazepine and diclofenac (a pain reliever).

If sewage treatment removes pharmaceuticals from the water, then it is concentrated in the sludge.  Sludge is used as fertilizer, so the pharmaceuticals are getting into the environment in other ways.

Drinking-water treatment also gets rid of some pharmaceutical contamination.  Chlorine is used to kill bacteria and other pathogens. It also reduces the impact of acetaminophen, codeine, carbamazepine and the antibiotic sulfathiazole by as much as 75%.

Damien Hirst Medicine Cabinets

Damien Hirst Medicine Cabinets

Antibiotics, beta blockers, stimulants, steroids, analgesics, selective inhibitors, hormones, anti-anxiety meds, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants and anti-epileptic drugs are just a short list of pharmaceuticals being measured in our drinking water.

If you drink municipal water you live in a watershed.  A watershed is a large area of land that feeds water to rivers and lakes from numerous sources.  Riverkeepers played a critical role in the first broad-based watershed legislation that protects our drinking water.  They watchdog compliance enforcement in NYC’s three major watershed regions.  Their work encompasses the enforcement of environmental laws; monitoring sprawl development in the watershed; working with communities and government on proactive programs to achieve long-term protection of the NYC Watershed; advocating for stronger watershed protection policies on a local, state and federal level; and encouraging New Yorkers to choose tap water over bottled water.

What You Can Do:

  • Support legislation to set standards for how controlled substances are disposed.  Non-retrievable standards such as incineration or chemical digestion are the most strict.  These permanently alter the physical or chemical state, making the substance unusable for all practical purposes.
  • Support options to legally expand the collection of unused, unwanted or expired substances such as take-back events, mail-back programs, and 24 hour securely locked public receptacles.
  • Major pharmacies sell specially designed addressed envelopes for mailing to safe disposal facilities.
  • Your trashcan is a last resort:  If there are no local medicine disposal alternatives, the FDA recommends throwing away old medicine in a plastic bag after mixing it with kitty litter or coffee grounds, but the bag ends up in a landfill unregulated.
  • Look for National Drug Take Back Days in your area.
  • The National Community of Pharmacists Association has a good website. http://www.disposemymeds.org.
  • You can help prevent drug misuse and abuse. Once you have taken your prescriptions home, keep them out of sight and reach of children.  Avoid taking them in front of children, as they tend to mimic adults.
  • Never give your medications to anyone else or take someone else’s medications.
  • Proper disposal helps prevent ingesting expired medications. Drugs are not stable substances.  They have expiration dates for a reason.  Changing drugs may be harmful.
  • Teenagers use prescription drugs to get their first highs.  Keep track of storing and using your medications.

Until next week,    Unknown-1

Garbage Girl


Fashion Week’s Waste

Content: Toilet Paper Care: Do Not Wash, No Iron

Content: Toilet Paper
Care: Do Not Wash, No Iron

The 2016 Resort Collections are currently showing in New York City.

The world clothing and textile industry reached over $2,560 trillion in revenues.  It is the excitement of so many new and creative ways we can transform ourselves that makes fashion such an addictive and stimulating draw.

There are more than 7 billion people living on earth and they all need something to wear.  According to Tree Hugger  http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-fashion/25-shocking-fashion-industry-statistics.html it would take 672 years to count only 3 articles of clothing per person if you tallied one per second.  Most of us have many more than 3 articles of clothing.

There are no statistics on how many garment industry workers exist in the world.  It is in constant flux to meet seasonal and market demands.

Garment production is often the first step in emerging economies. The labor intensity on all levels of the industry, employing mostly women, has a staggering environmental and social impact.

The challenges are:

Sustainability starts at the drawing board by making choices that create the least impact on resources and people.  Few designers go beyond seasonal, market trends and aesthetics.

Working conditions in an international industry with complex supply chains.  Living wages, overtime, cheap child labor, workplace safety and human rights are very difficult to locate let alone monitor across so much cultural and economic diversity.

Making yarn into fabric, skins into leather, and plants, worms or petrochemicals into fibers uses an intense amount of natural resources and chemicals.

Transporting resources, materials and garments all over the world often times criss crossing continents multiple times makes for an irresponsible industry abundant in immeasurable greenhouse gas emissions .

Growth and Price.  All businesses need to grow.  Clothing just keeps getting cheaper.  The demand for cheap clothing has become an expectation.  Competition is fierce.

Consumer care of their clothes.  Consumers need to care for their clothing in environmentally conscious ways to reduce water use, reduce drying time, reduce dry cleaning, reduce water temperature, reduce number of times cleaned, repair worn garments, recycle used garments, and repurpose all textiles.

Animal rights. Animals skins, wool and down are often supplied in unsustainable ways.  Demand is huge for exotic skins, endangered species, horn, bone, fur, angora, silk, and cashmere as they all become materials used in the competitive “deliver more for less money” contemporary designer level.

Conscious Materials Marketing.  For example, Polyurethane is marketed as “vegan” leather but it uses solvents that require protective gear during manufacturing.  Fine lamb skins became smaller and smaller due to the high demand and then shortage of baby lambs. Etc., etc., etc.

Supply chain visibility to inform the customer where all levels of the garment are processed would take an awful large care and content label.

Ethical Trading.  Many factories supply many brands so all companies need to comply with set standards to eliminate moving orders and constantly changing factory names when wage requirements  increase or compliance rules get more strict.

Water scarcity, use and waste in producing clothing is mainly due to growing cotton, the world’s most popular fiber, and dying fabrics and yarns.   Making and wearing clothing is a water intense process over the entire life of the garment.

Chemicals are used in every stage of a garment’s life such as pesticides, fertilizers, dry cleaning solvents, dyes and dye fixatives, finishes, machine lubricants, stain removers, detergents, petrochemicals and their processing chemicals.

Pollution of air and water is not regularly monitored in light of the economic and employment benefits involved in clothing and textiles.

Good News!

Good News!

A Close Loop model involves products, components, or materials re-purposed into the same product or used by the same company.  A Circular Economy is an economic model that is regenerative by intent and design.  Clothing and Textile companies are starting to realize the cost benefit over the long term.

The following companies and organizations are involved in Sustainable Clothing Initiatives:

Nike, Esquel, Walmart, H&M, Levi’s, Adidas, and Burberry to name the large ones.  There are many more.

Animal Welfare & Material Ethics

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

Better Mill Initiative

Better Work

Clever Care

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)

Fair Labor Association (FLA)

Fair Wage Network (FWN)

Fur Free Alliance

International Labour Organisation (ILO)



Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT)


Sustainable Apparel Coalition Textile Exchange Higgs Index

Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)

The Climate Group


World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC)

Everything old is New again.

Everything Old is New Again.

How You Can Help:

  • Care for your clothing with awareness.  Use lower water temperatures, less drying time, and clean less frequently.
  • Buy detergents that are eco friendly.
  • Read fabric content and care labels.
  • Reuse, repurpose and recyle all textiles.  They don’t belong in landfills.  Many green markets now have textile recycling booths.
  • Check out Audrey Supple Maker Faire “Fashion on the Make” to learn how many people it takes to make a designer dress. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kJYBnniNgk
  • Google any of the above companies and organizations plus sustainable clothing to find out how they are involved.
  • More and more boxes are placed in public areas to discard unwanted clothing and textiles.
  • H&M is involved with all of the above organizations!  They have boxes in all of their stores for no longer wanted garments.  Check them out!!

Until next week,  images

Garbage Girl