How to Make Your Holiday Merry—and Nontoxic
Everything in the stores around now looks so pretty and sparkly—strings of tinsel, shiny ornaments and more different kinds of lights than you ever imagined existed. But a new study found that major retail chains, including CVS, Dollar Tree, Kroger's, Lowe's, Target, Walgreen and Walmart, continue to sell holiday products that contain toxic chemicals. The study updates similar surveys done in 2012 and 2013 by HealthyStuff.org, a project of Ann Arbor's Ecology Center.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
The center tested 69 holiday products including tinsel, wreaths, garlands, figurines and other tabletop decorations, stockings, wall decorations and gift bags. The findings were nowhere near as pretty as the products looked. More than two-thirds of the products tested contained at least one toxic chemical at a level that could potentially be hazardous to health.
“We’ve been testing and finding similar problems with these products since 2012," said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s principle researcher. "Most retailers have been slow to react and continue sell these products. Environmental and public health advocates with the Mind the Store Campaign have called for the nation’s biggest retailers to work with suppliers to eliminate these hazards and develop safer substitute chemicals for these products."
The study found that 13 percent of the products tested contained lead above 100 parts per million (ppm), 12 percent contained more than 800 ppm bromine, indicating brominated flame retardants. Many of the beaded garlands had multiple toxic contaminants, including bromine, chlorine, lead, antimony, tin and arsenic, just as they did in 2013. Many of the 2014 light strings showed high levels of lead and bromine, as they had in previous studies. These chemicals can be released into the air or cling to the skin when the products are handled. They have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.
The study points out, "Home decorative items are largely unregulated for chemical hazards. They may legally contain lead or phthalates, for example, in amounts prohibited in children’s products by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. As long as a product is not labeled as being intended for children, it is not subject to lead, cadmium or phthalates regulations."
“Parents shouldn’t have to worry that their holiday decorations may contain toxic chemicals,” said Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “Big retailers should get these hidden hazards out of holiday decorations, once and for all. Parents expect their favorite retailers to mind the store."
You can see the complete results and the products they tested here.
If you don't see a product you bought listed, it's still wise to take precautions, since many stores sell identical items under different names. HealthStuff.org suggests keeping holiday decor out of the reach of children, washing your hands after handling holiday light strings, and vacuuming often to reduce levels of chemical-carrying dust.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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