Sustainable Living

Posted on 04/23//13

Legislature Marks Earth Day by Advancing Ban on Plastic Bags
BOSTON – On Monday, April 22, the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, held a special hearing on proposals to ban plastic carryout bags. They immediately voted to advance the bill, taking this critical first step. The bill will now move forward and could face a final vote within the next few weeks.
Plastic bags have been singled out as a one of the most visible and dangerous types of litter. The bags take up to 1000 years to degrade, and when they do, they break up into smaller and smaller bits, never going away. They are deadly to wildlife, which mistake them for food or become entangled in them. Turtles, whales, seals, birds, and fish are the most susceptible to ingesting them, suffering a painful death as the plastic wraps around their intestines or they choke to death. Some animal species, already threatened due to issues such as overfishing or habitat loss, could face extinction.
Plastic bags also don’t biodegrade; they simply break into ever smaller plastic bits, never disappearing from our environment. These small bits, known as micro-plastics, attract toxins and carcinogens, which eventually enter the food chain, and displace food supplies in the world’s oceans.
“Like urban tumbleweeds, plastic bags end up airborne in trees, clogging storm drains and polluting our oceans. Every time we utilize a plastic bag we are contributing to leaving our planet worse for the generations that will follow us,” said State Representative Lori A. Ehrlich, (D-Marblehead), the lead sponsor of H696 “This legislation will put Massachusetts on the map as a beacon for responsible consumer behavior and environmental stewardship.”
“Over 380 billion plastic bags are used every year by Americans, and only about 5 percent are recycled. The widespread use of plastic bags has serious consequences for the environment: littering our coastlines, using up the equivalent of billions of gallons of petroleum and killing millions of animals every year. It’s time to ban this dangerous product and encourage the use of more sustainable alternatives,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton).
“This is a major step in the right direction for Massachusetts. With this ban, we would become one of the leaders among governments acting to protect the world we live in. We don’t have to accept plastic bags choking our oceans, rivers, birds, and animals. We can start being part of the solution,” stated Representative Denise Provost (D-Somerville).
Reps. Ehrlich, Provost, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge each sponsored similar bills to ban plastic bags.
Numerous cities and countries around the world have enacted plastic bag bans. In fact, Nantucket, Massachussetts was one of the first in the world, enacted over 20 years ago. In the last year, Brookline and Manchester-by-the-Sea joined with their own plastic bag bans. Every county in Hawaii has passed a ban, but passage of this bill would make Massachusetts the first state to pass a statewide ban.
This bill would ban single use plastic bags from chains and large stores and would require paper bags to be comprised of recycled material. Many grocery stores have already implemented these policies, so this would not have a significant impact.
The Massachusetts Sierra Club and other public interest organizations have been attempting to pass statewide legislation to ban plastic bags. “Public support for banning bags is overwhelming,” said Phil Sego of the Sierra Club. “Readily available sustainable substitutes make banning plastic bags a common-sense policy to protect the environment.”
“Nothing we use for five minutes should harm our oceans for generations to come,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment Massachusetts.  “It’s time to say goodbye to the plastic bag.”
Also testifying in favor of a ban were Women Working for Oceans (W2O), Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Brookline Town Meeting Member Clint Richmond.
Article submitted for publication to the Boston Globe by The Sierra Club
Posted on 04/22//13

Meg Steiner, Barbara Burgess, Mary Alice Karol and Ellen Curren at the State House

Meg Steiner, Barbara Burgess, Mary Alice Karol and Ellen Curren at the State House

W2O Co Founder, Barbara Burgess and three other W2O Board members headed to the Boston State House today to testify to our State Legislature’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of the Plastic Bag Reduction Bill #696.  What better to way to honor Earth Day than to stand up for what we believe in to protect our oceans by stating our views on the pollution and harmful effects to human health by those aerodynamic plastic bags choking our waterways, strangling our marine life and ending up in all of us. W2O joined The Sierra Club, Environmental America and other groups in support of the bill put forth by Democrat Massachusetts Representative of the 8th Essex District, Lori Ehrlich.

Some reminders of the issues at hand and a link to how you can help!

  • PLASTIC IS FOREVER (still ringing in my ears from our “Plastics in the Oceans, Plastics in You event and eloquently put by Dianna Cohen from Plastic Pollution Coalition-plastic breaks down into tiny bits that are ingested by our fish and wildlife and then in turn is ingested by us and IT NEVER GOES AWAY
  • Plastic clogs our waterways, costs municipalities in clean up efforts, and end up in our oceans, collecting in huge gyres that can never be cleaned up
  • “Biodegradable” doesn’t exist when speaking of plastic (bags or any kind) and companies that tell you that their bag is going to “break down” are not telling you the science. In order for a bag to decompose, it needs the perfect conditions of sun, heat and lack of moisture.  Most bags are in our trees, landfills and waterways and are not basking in the sun for hundreds of days waiting to break down. Just refuse plastic bags!

Act now! Use this link to the Sierra Clubs easy guide and Write your legislator and Protect What YOU Love!

Posted on 02/24//13

I went shopping last week with a friend who has a membership to BJ’s and was reminded why I have let my own membership lapse.  Once you are sensitive to the single use plastic issue, it seems like the plastic monster is everywhere and that the entire universe is bathed in the stuff.  Natures finest gets wrapped and encased. I thought I would choose a carton of milk over the plastic jug…and, as you can see, this didn’t work out for me.  Selling two at a time with one price and plastic wrapping the two milk cartons together! You have to wonder who thinks this up!

 

Eggs (the ultimate in perfect packaging all by themselves) were covered by the plastic cloak as well.

I decided to try Stop and Shop.  First stop was the produce aisle. I needed some celery for a recipe I was thinking of making.  I caught up with a person stocking the items and asked what she thought about the celery being in plastic and whether or not there was some purpose for packaging them that way and she sweetly said “Oh, thats how they come.” She then looked at the quizzical look on my face and she laughed and I laughed and we had a discussion about how easily we say these things forgetting that produce doesn’t start out its journey in plastic wrap.

I did find a carton of milk!

 

Posted on 02/19//13

NPR photo of Whole Foods MSC label on Swordfish

As a follow up to my last blog post, I am including the second of a three part series about the “sustainability” of the MSC labeling. MSC labeling is again called to task. Hopefully a great idea will maintain/gain some great standards and guidelines for buying fish. What we wish it to be, though, isn’t yet. Certainly listen to the three programs devoted to this topic or read this entire article (and the MSC’s response to the accusations) but here is an excerpt from the next NPR segment:

 

But many environmentalists who have studied the MSC system say that label is misleading. “We’re not getting what we think we’re getting,” says Susanna Fuller, co-director of marine programs at Canada’s Ecology Action Centre. She says the consumer, when purchasing seafood with the blue MSC label, is “not buying something that’s sustainable now.”

If the label were accurate, Fuller says, it would include what she says is troubling fine print: The MSC system has certified most fisheries with “conditions.” Those conditions spell out that the fishermen will have to change the way they operate or study how their methods are affecting the environment — or both. But they have years to comply with those conditions after the fisheries have already been certified sustainable.

Gerry Leape, an oceans specialist who sits on the MSC’s advisory Stakeholder Council on behalf of the Pew Charitable Trusts, says the MSC’s policy is baffling. “It’s misleading,” he says, “to put a label of sustainability on a product where you still don’t have the basic requirements.”

Posted on 02/11//13

Image from sustainablesushi.net

I caught the ending of an interesting program today on NPR that explained and questioned the labeling of fish by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  I see the labels in Whole Foods and other retail outlets and have always just taken for granted that the label was a signal to me that what I was purchasing was “sustainable.”  I am like you-I want to do the right thing and buy fish that are not endangered or in decline. I also want to support fisheries that care about sustaining species of fish for their own livelihood and our culinary enjoyment. The labeling of fish by the MSC seems like a great idea but doesn’t always fulfill the promise of sustainability.

Unilever, one of the largest producers of frozen fish, and The World Wildlife Fund devised the MSC labeling at the height of the Atlantic Cod decline in the 90s.  “The MSC does not certify fisheries itself. Instead, a fishery that wants the label hires one of roughly a dozen commercial auditing companies to decide whether its practices comply with the MSC’s definition of “sustainable.” Sounds like a wonderful idea….

The comment that struck me as I listened today made my heart sink; ( I won’t get the quote just right and can’t find it anywhere in the article) “When you buy swordfish for dinner are you ok with the fact that three sharks were caught along with it?”  The sharks caught are usually release but the stress causes many of them to die anyway.  My taste for my favorite fish suddenly makes me not hungry. “This touches on one of MSC’s three fundamental rules, even though studies show swordfish are plentiful. The second rule says that a fishery is not sustainable if it does not maintain “the integrity of ecosystems” — which means, in part, that it’s not sustainable if there is too much by-catch,” says Steve Campana, who runs the Canadian government’s Shark Research Laboratory, near Halifax, Nova Scotia.

MSC has engaged the interest of the public by contracting with big companies such as Walmart and Target, which are drivers of change for sure-so maybe this is a good thing for some that are just starting their journey about caring for our fish and oceans.  If labeling is done well, we should rejoice that this system has become popular. But this consumer is now concerned that she doesn’t know enough to trust what she reads and will be questioning labels and doing some more research on this important topic.

 

Posted on 01/23//13

Chef Bill Bradley cooking for W2O members

W2O Member, Michelle Vilms weighs in on what she learned from a night out with members at the Sustenance for the “Sole” Event
For the novice fish buyer, the seafood counter can be daunting.  We are often paralyzed by the choices and a lack of understanding about what is a great sustainable seafood choice.  At the W2O members event this month, Heather Tausag, from the NEAq started off by saying,  “Buying seafood over meat is always the best choice. It is a choice that is better for the environment as well as for our health. Knowing the benefits should make us all want to experiment with new selections at the seafood counter.”  Heather and NEAq staff member, Elizabeth Fitzsimons, also talked about the great shellfish options available all year long.  They explained the strict US regulations for monitoring the bays where the shellfish is caught and NEAq Executive Chef Bill Bradley explained some cooking options.  The take-away “You can never go wrong ordering shellfish”.
Next, we learned that all canned fish can be a great trusted staple. Even canned tuna is a good choice.  That being said, not all countries adhere to the regulations and the fish do not see the boundaries. The package labeling will guide us toward the highly regulated sustainable USA products, which is a great choice for the environment.  It also sends a message of support to our local fishermen.

Anchovies are the underrated fish. Most often the anchovy is a food source for the larger fish and has not been cultivated as a dining option.  Chef Bradley provided tasty fried anchovy stuffed olives (recipe below!) as an appetizer.  Elizabeth and Heather explained the many health benefits of the fish which are packed with vitamins and selenium (which has benefits for a healthy heart and has been prescribed as a healthy food to cancer patients).  Because some view anchovy as “fishy” and associate it with what is served in a Caesar Salad, it is a not a typical choice for the home cook. The advice from Chef Bradley was to start out slowly by incorporating an anchovy paste (found at Wholefoods and other specialty shops) into a pasta dish for flavor and great nutrition.
Chef Bradley, cooked with ease as he explained how to poach fish.  Arctic Char was the choice for the evening. Delicious!  Check out the Neaq.com website for some recipes.
All the guests asked great questions and showed a thirst for knowledge about sustainable seafood choices. Overall the best advice was to “experiment with different fish and recipes to broaden the seafood menu in our homes”.  Events like this one helps share the important information regarding the choices that we make regarding our health and the health of our oceans. We should all continue to ask questions of our waitstaff, chefs, seafood counter help and owners.  Asking these questions about where and how the fish is raised or caught assists in menu choices, product lines and consumer information.
This event was fantastic.  The information was well thought out and provided useful tips for our everyday busy lives.
Michelle Vilms is a consultant and a member of W2O. She is also an Overseer at the New England Aquarium.

Fried Olives

 For the: Anchovy Filling

1 cup Italian parsley, chopped fine

4 anchovy fillets, chopped fine

2 garlic cloves, chopped fine

¼ cup panko bread crumbs

Extra virgin olive oil or butter as needed

Salt and pepper

Method: Combine all ingredients in a in a food processor and puree to a paste.  Add some extra virgin olive oil or butter as needed to make the paste smooth.  (You may add water instead to cut down on fat content.)  Place filling in a plastic pastry bag and set aside.

For the: Olives

24 green Sicilian olives

Anchovy filling

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs, whipped

2 cups Italian bread crumbs

Canola oil for frying

Method: Fill each olive with the anchovy filling. Roll each filled olive in flour (make sure the olive is completely covered with flour), then dip in the egg (again make sure the olive is completely covered in egg.)  Finally, roll the olive in the bread crumbs.  Place olives in the refrigerator for at least an hour so the breading adheres.  When ready to serve heat oil in a sauce pan to 325 degrees.  Place olives in the oil, 8 at a time, and fry until golden brown.  Serve warm.

 

Posted on 01/09//13

The big new today, of course, is not new news at all. We are all feeling the effects of climate change and thankfully it is a “hot” (pun intended) topic in the press.  Graphs and headlines that show that 2012 was the hottest ever on record are scary but hopefully will squelch the skepticism that still exists about whether or not our own actions are contributing to last year’s extreme heat and drought. Scientists are convinced that last year’s record temps are caused by “natural variability but “many of them express doubt that such a striking new record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases” (NY Times 1/9/13).

Tucked away in the Op-Ed section of the NY Times Thomas Friedman makes the analogy that we need to “tap the breaks” on climate change because we are “driving towards a cliff in a fog.”  I won’t get political here but we all know that a cliff is a cliff and we can’t go over it-whether financially or environmentally.  Mr. Friedman puts it eloquently: “Indeed we are actually taunting the two most powerful and merciless forces on the planet, the market and Mother Nature, at the same time. We’re essentially saying to both of them: “Hey, what’ve you got, baby? No interest rate rises? A little bitty temperature increase? Thats all you’ve got?  I just hope we get our act tougher before the market and Mother Nature each show us what they’ve got.”

Posted on 12/28//12

Derek Speirs for the NYTimes

My favorite New Years quote (NYTimes 12/28) comes from Dr. Frank Convery, an economist at the University of Dublin, and refers to the strides made by Ireland to reduce their overwhelming fiscal deficit while creating low carbon emissions with the introduction of a carbon footprint tax.  By introducing the tax and changing behavior, Ireland has reduced its emission by 15% since 2008.  Dr Convery: “You don’t want to waste a good crisis to do what we should be doing anyway.”

Posted on 12/10//12

Anne Peacher

Anne Peacher is a woman on a mission. She is direct, meets your eye and is passionate about her role as advocate for reducing plastics in the Weston Public Schools. You want her on your team-she is clear, driven, and will negotiate her way past any obstacle. A resident of Weston for twenty years, Peacher says that the W2O event, “Plastics in the Ocean, Plastics in You” with Plastic Pollutions Coalition’s Dianna Cohen “jump started her towards advocacy” and encouraged her start of Weston Plastic Free Campuses.

Traveling with her family, she has witnessed first hand how much plastic washes up on once pristine beaches and shorelines. She recommended that her kids give up water bottle usage last year for lent and having her family on board helped her delve further into action.  “I have incredible support from the Superintendent of Weston Public Schools, Dr. Cheryl Mahoney and all the principals in the district. I am working alongside the Director of Athletics, Mike McGrath and Head of School Food Services Tess Sousa. This group, along with the tremendous efforts from Students for Environmental Action, helped make changes like replacing plastic milk bottles with cartons, creative pricing of water bottles to discourage usage and including essential “plastic free” items on back to school lists for children and parents. We are using the positive messaging of Reduce, Recycle, Reuse and REFUSE to get the message out to children and we couldn’t do this without a fabulous team of students, faculty and parents.”

Anne is taking the plastic free model one step further-to the entire Weston community. As committee member for the Weston 300 Celebration next year-she is insisting that the events be plastic free! Go Anne!

Posted on 11/29//12

Friends contemplating W2O holiday gift ideas

Happy Holidays from W2O. Here are Ocean friendly gifts inspired by suggestions from our members. We would love to hear from you about what fun unexpected things you have found that will inspire others to care for our beautiful oceans-please share! Here are some suggestions that we hope you will enjoy.

  • Membership to W2O! Give the wonderful gift of a W2O year membership to your friends and loved ones and receive a W2O car magnet. Members will receive invitations to members only events (such as a Jan. sustainable seafood event and our fabulous Valentines event) and early warnings about our popular educational events. Membership is $50 and checks can be sent to P.O. Box 503 Weston M.A. 02493
  • Share your love for all things Aquatic. The New England Aquarium has ideas for even your most difficult to buy for-including sponsoring a Right Whale and a kiss from a seal! 
  • In keeping with our mission to ban single use plastic bags, we are delighted to give you lots of fun alternatives! So cool shopping bags that come in all sizes and colors. Here are just a few of our faves: From Madewell, a beautiful colorful tote bag, Simple Peace offers urban totes and stylish farmers market bags made out of hemp and canvas. There are an endless amount of colors to choose from at Baggu, and the iconic Anya Hindmarch “I am not a Plastic Bag” now only found on ebay.
  • Picture above : A glass reusable bottle from Life Factory, a stainless steel straw from WestElm and the UfO Siliko Lid-a handy silicon mat that helps you nixsay the plastic wrap. It seals, goes in the micowave, fridge and most importantly the dishwasher!

Our members are buying their friends gifts that reduce plastic use, like the Soda Stream, and on the heels of our reduce car emissions Roadside Assistance event, a membership to ZipCar!  We would love to hear what inspires you this year to give sustainable healthy gifts to your family and friends.

Happy Holidays from all of us at W2O!