Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Of Disposable Cups and Popcorn Bags, Of Cabbages and Kings

Okay, another post on green bins.  The lack of consistent communication at Waterloo Region's Waste Management facility is makin' me nuts!  It seems every time I call or e-mail or read another newsletter from them I get a slightly different message about what is and what is not allowed in the green bin.   Why do I care?  Because the "product" the green bin program produces will potentially end up used as a fertilizer on crops.  That is, we will end up eating the crap that goes in there.  It's heated to high temperatures which, in theory, kills off all the bacteria like e-coli from the dog crap and meat that we stick in there.  Sometimes that process is ineffective and people die.  And they can't take out toxins from plastics or other chemicals that aren't meant to be consumed. As Rose George writes, "The waste-water industry is intimidating...dissent is not encouraged....We are their lab rats."  Just so you know.....

As I said in an e-mail to our Mayor two minutes ago, "It feels like the region is barreling ahead with something without proper research in place. Some employees of the Waste Management are completely unaware of the composition of popcorn bags and disposable cups, and as such, seem to be making unwise decisions that could compromise the health of citizens of Waterloo Region."

Their recent newsletter encourages us to include disposable cups but not compostable corn starch bags, and suggests we re-use microwavable popcorn bags as liners.  So I asked for some clarification on each of these.

On Tim Horton's Disposable Cups

Weeks ago I was assured by an employee at the waste facility that these cups aren't allowed, but the recent  newsletter says they are.  Curious.  The representative that was nice enough to e-mail clarification this morning told me they ARE allowed because they're just made of paper:  There's a BIG confidentiality message at the bottom of the correspondence I received indicating no unauthorized disclosure (which I didn't notice before I forwarded it all to the mayor - whooops), so I won't quote directly, but suffice it to say Tim Hortons cups are fine to include in the green bins because they're made of boxboard.

The problem is, that they aren't:  "Tim Horton cups contain a plastic liner."  There's a Facebook group protesting the types of cups used even, so it's not like this is an obscure fact that could only be know by insiders.

In Waterloo Region, there are more Tim Hortons than Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, A&W and Harvey's put together. One garbage study found that 22% of litter in Nova Scotia was from Tim Hortons (compared to 10% from McDonalds). This is a huge issue.  Tim Hortons' will offer a small discount if you use a travel mug, but that's not having enough of an effect.

On Compostable Bags

If Tim's cups, which have plastic in them, are okay, why not compostable bags?   She didn't directly address my question about the rejection of compostable corn starch bags.  I think they should reject them, but what personally bugs me more than food concerns, to tell you the truth, is the inconsistency of what they take and what they reject.  I have a strong drive to understand things, to get my head around systems, and this one still seems nonsensical to me.  So it really helps to know they think Tim's cups are pure boxboard.  Then it makes sense that they're acceptable but the bio-bags aren't.

Except... the Tim's cups aren't recyclable because of the plastic in them according to Waterloo Region Waste Management.

Are we having fun yet?   

On Microwave Popcorn Bags

Here's where things get really scary.  I expressed concern over teflon in the green bins because doesn't everyone know microwave popcorn bags are lined with teflon?  Apparently not.  The rep was completely unaware of this.  Really the whole issue is that people don't read every single piece of news about environmental or health issues that comes at them or even the things I write about at this little forum.  Curious.

On C8 or Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) lining the bags.:  "Food and Drug Administration researchers said microwave popcorn bags alone could expose the public to 'hundreds of times' more C8 than normal use of nonstick cookware. The C8 is then ingested by the people eating the popcorn." Worse, I'd say, is eating the bag which will be ground up and mixed in with organics and potentially used agriculturally.

Studies show that PFOA is readily absorbed following ingestion, poorly eliminated, and tends not to be metabolized. As such, "PFOA enters the circulation and is primarily distributed and taken up by the kidneys and liver. Additionally, detection of PFOA in umbilical cord blood indicates that it crosses the placenta." In studies, "PFOA affected primarily the liver and can cause developmental and reproductive toxic effects at relatively low dose levels in experimental animals. It increased the tumour incidence in rats, mainly in the liver."

Take a minute to watch this video if you're not convinced:

Somewhat disbelieving, the waste rep suggested that my club should take on a project of verifying this information, but I don't think we need to verify it. It's in the news over and over. Dupont was sued when some of this stuff got in drinking water in the states. Now we're being encouraged to include it in the bins. This chemical cannot be extracted from the finished product (sludge) before it gets turned into fertilizer and is added to our food chain. I'm afraid if they do nothing to correct this, our little Waste Management facility will be complicit in increased the toxicity of citizens of Waterloo Region.

If you care about your health, please send an e-mail or two.  This is serious.