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Factory Clothing Tragedy in Bangladesh

There are times when my passion for wanting to write about global problems shouldn’t happen immediately, without research first and the recent tragedy involving factory workers in Bangladesh is the perfect example. Like so many people, I was very upset to learn that more than 300 factory employees making brand name clothing died in a building collapse in Bangladesh. My immediate reaction was not to boycott Bangladesh clothing, but I must admit to wanting to scream “only support locally made clothing” to anyone that would listen. I was steaming mad. All I could think of was the people being paid $38 month to make the big name labels that for all these years I’ve avoided because I get so frustrated knowing the huge profits these companies make. What else could be the driving force for sub-letting the American clothing industry overseas for all these years? I also wonder why we can’t pay people in 3rd world countries more money to make our products? Are we really that greedy? Well, if you are paying someone just over $1 a day to make clothing for 10 hours, I’d say profit margins are pretty high and maybe we’ve become too far removed as North Americans from what it actually costs to make something.

I’m different from a lot of people. When I hear people talking about how cheap they just picked up items a, b, and c, I actually cringe. I feel like there is something very wrong with our world when I can go to a big box store that is having a clothing sale, and buy clothing for less than I can find it 2nd hand or make it myself. When I close my eyes, this isn’t the kind of world I want for myself. And so I try hard to vote with my consumer dollars. Because we are not wealthy and it really does cost a lot more to only purchase locally made clothing, I’ve really embraced shopping 2nd hand in the last few years. My kids really like the feel of already worn clothing and I love the recycled aspect to buying clothing this way.

So shopping local and 2nd hand is really my thing. But I would enjoy the freedom of knowing which big brands are doing their part to support factory employees in other countries by paying them a fair wage and giving them safe working conditions. Why don’t we know this? A wonderful blogger who has actually visited Bangladesh with Save The Children Canada has been able to share her experiences from understanding what kind of impact the factory clothing industry has in Bangladesh.  Her points about why your shouldn’t boycott Bangladesh made clothing really made me think and realize this isn’t going to help people suffering in countries that experience such poverty. I learned from PhD In Parenting’s article that some larger brands have been working to try and improve safety in their factories.  And brands that made a decision to opt out of any improvement to garment factory safety in 2011? Walmart, The Gap, Old Navy to name a few. Large brands that are proactively trying to help? Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. I still find the issue of what large brands opting in for safety regulations confusing and if I did all my shopping solely at big box stores this information would only help me so far navigating within a Mall. So it comes down to asking questions. And after recently listening to one of Michael Pollan speeches to university students, he said something that I think is relevant to this issue of clothing and wanting to know more behind how it’s made. He said that if a question is asked more than 25 times at McDonalds, they have to raise the question with superiors. (I can’t remember the exact quote but it might be board of directors or shareholders). So if McDonalds has this policy – maybe the clothing stores do too? If I walk into Old Navy and ask the Manager if they support safety agreements for the factory workers that make their clothing – will it lead to change? If the clothes are made in Bangladesh, quoting this safety agreement might be helpful. If a retailers clothing is manufactured in China, India, etc. the question is still relative. “Does your clothing support safe working conditions and pay for factory workers?”

And maybe as a society we need to really understand the true cost of cheap things. Our focus needs to go back to knowing where the origin of clothing, food, and housewares comes from. Our grandparents knew. And along the way we stopped caring and listening to where the products that enter our lives come from or how they were made. It’s a problem that can be fixed. The true cost of that pair of jeans for $4.99 on sale at Walmart is much, much greater. The environmental toll and human face needs to reemerge before I want to buy them. If I know there is human cost behind a product I’m good to pass until I can trust another big name is caring about the woman sitting behind a machine in the garment factory for 12 hours a day. I want her to work, be a leader in her family with income, but I also want to know she’s not locked in a building with cracks in the foundation making me that pair of pants. So no, definitely not boycotting Bangladesh, but yes, wanting to know a safety agreement has been signed to protect these worker. Yes.

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Car Seat Reycling and Depot Tour

I’ve been given wings to fly from UsedVancouver.com – a company that is allowing me to put my wishes for the environment into action. They are a classified site where people list or buy used items so talking about up-cycling and reusing is right up their alley. We just completed an awesome car seat recycling campaign and the reaction to this community project was fantastic. Car seats are probably the toughest item to dispose of with an earth friendly focus (read this article to understand why) so it felt great to assist with keeping 44 car seats out of the landfill! And yesterday I had the pleasure of delivering these car seats to Gibsons Recycling Depot because they deconstruct car seats and recycle the metal and plastic from the base and straps. UsedVancouver.com absorbed the cost of this initiative and needs to be recognized for their dedication to community projects.

I first learned about Gibsons Recycling Depot when writing my predictions for 2012 and thinking about ownership of waste. Talking to their staff and checking out their website really inspired more meaning to what being Eco-conscience with consumerism is all about. Thinking about the life cycle of a product before we buy it is so important to our health and the environment.  Now after physically visiting the depot, I had another light bulb moment about improving my consumer footprint and it’s a sign located as you drive into the depot with a simple, but important message “what do things really cost?” I took a picture and it’s included below:

 

You just need to tour your local recycling depot to understand the answer to that question. Your answer might be different than mine, but I interpret it to mean that the little things we as consumers purchase – things that we don’t need to survive (clothing, shelter, food, education) that we can afford in the moment because they seem affordable and give us temporary/instant gratification. These items have a higher cost than we think. An example is the plastic toy that costs $2 and seems like a really inexpensive purchase, but what happens when you try to get rid of that toy in 5 years? It can’t be recycled and will hang around in the dump and outlive your children..is the true cost of that toy still $2?  No it’s not. And when you visit a recycling depot like Gibsons, you see the true cost of ‘stuff’. They have a place to put almost everything and if it can’t be recycled – they try to sell it in a little make-shift store. I’ll never forgot the container (where items go that need to be taken to the landfill) with plastic toy trucks around the top. There are containers for most plastics, tin cans, glass, dirty wood, clean wood, etc. but these toys were made up of too many pieces of non-recyclable parts. It’s what I pointed out to my son that I brought with me for a ‘field trip’ because it resonated with me. The true cost of these items can no longer be measured in what the owner originally paid – the cost of having something last on earth forever has a high cost.

But, don’t think I came away disheartened – actually it was the opposite. When you see how efficient a recycling depot is, the knowledge the staff has, and know items are closing the loop on their life cycle – it’s inspiring. My favorite part of the depot was the glass recycling section. For people that think that glass is too heavy, too expensive, etc. as a food packing option – if the glass gets to a recycling depot…magical things happen. The glass is sorted into different colors (green, brown, clear) and then tumbled in a huge machine and broken down into cullet. There are so many uses for glass and because it can be recycled an infinite amount of times – it’s a great material. Some uses are ingredients in paint or building supplies, sand on beaches, ceramic tiles, fiberglass, etc. If you look at the top picture with the sign, the white material that looks like snow is actually glass that’s been recycled into beach sand. Here is the glass going up the conveyor to become cullet:

 

So this week I got to complete a project of collecting car seats and delivering them to a recycling depot that is clearly setting the bar high with their dedication to efficient disposal – it’s been amazing to be on these field assignments and I thank UsedVancouver.com for sponsoring. I share my experience and highly recommend parents taking their children to see the behind the scenes of a recycling depot before the holiday season approaches. A clear message from my tour is how wasteful the holidays can be with people just buying to ‘buy’. Giving stuff that doesn’t have purpose or meaning needs to be curbed and helping children to realize what is truly important with gift giving or celebrating can be redefined and still create memories and fun. We just need to be creative and think about where things go after we are finished using them!

Related Articles:

My Guest Post for The Soft Landing called ‘New Year’s Prediction – Ownership of Waste

Who Should Shop At Thrift Stores?

Spoooky Disposable Tableware

Baby and Children’s Car Seats – How To Dispose or Reuse?

A Greener Christmas Plan

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What are GMOs?

To truly understand what it means to eat healthier – you need to learn what GMOs are. If you’ve heard the terms: genetically modified food (GMO), Monsanto, or Prop 37 and haven’t been fully able to understand what these terms mean I hope this article will help. GMOs are a worldwide problem and just like the household world of toxins with plastics, flame retardants, phthalates, formaldehyde, etc., understanding there are major problems within our food source is actually pretty scary. Opening our eyes to how widespread the problem of GMOs has become, especially in North America is important. Let’s start at the beginning to understand why GMO, Monsanto, and Prop 37 are all terms to discover on your journey to better health.

What is Monsanto?

Monsanto is a company that has been a chemical giant since it started in 1901 – which immediately leads to the question “what are they doing in the food industry?!” The creation of toxic products that have lead to major pollution & health problems were created by Monsanto in the earlier 1900s: Agent Orange & PCBs. These and other chemicals kept Monsanto busy for the first 50 years of the company but after PCBs became banned in the late 70s, Monsanto shifted it’s focus and wanted to become known as an agricultural company. By 1980 Monsanto had become focused on producing Roundup which is a weed killer or herbicide. The marketing when Roundup first came onto the market declared it was biodegradable and good for the earth. The promise of using Roundup was to be a convenience for farmers to save time weeding. The wording of ‘biodegradable’ has since changed on Roundup bottles because it’s not.  In order to grow food that could withstand the effects of spraying crops with Roundup, Monsanto created genetically modified seeds for soy, corn, sugarbeets, cotton, rapeseed (canola), potatoes, and more, so that the plants would grow, even though Roundup was being sprayed. They actually changed the DNA of the seed and this is when biotechnology was introduced to our food.

So to summarize: Monsanto is the company that created weed killer called Roundup to act as a time saver for farmers….then created a seed that could withstand the effects of Roundup. All of this was passed, approved, with very little testing by the US government. This takes us to understand what GMOs are – genetically modified organisms in the form of seeds.

What are GMOs?

First Roundup ready soy beans (GM or genetically modified soy beans) were approved in the US in 1996. We learn that in the early 90s GMOs were approved by the US government as more of a political decision rather than science which is what makes them so controversial. It’s another example of a product brought onto the market that wasn’t fully tested to prove that it’s safe before entering our homes, bodies, and food chain. Roundup ready soy beans account for 95% of soy beans grown in the US. Between 1995-2005, Monsanto purchased 50 seed companies throughout the world. This massive purchase has led to many foods being born from GMO seeds – view a more complete list here. Some of these foods include: corn, cotton, wheat, soy, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, sugarcane, canola, honey, peas, papaya, squash, sugarbeets, chicory, and sweet corn. At first thought you might think that avoiding GMO ingredients or products is easy but cruise the interior lanes of a supermarket, look at labels and try to find food that doesn’t contain canola.

The future problems of modified food or genetically altered seeds is contamination. Even in countries where GMOs are banned, you have genetically modified seeds appearing. This has happened in Mexico with their corn – which is a problem since it’s one of the largest corn producers. So let’s think about this fact – and it’s one of the scariest facts about how widespread we’ve allowed a company built on creating toxic chemicals has become. Cross contamination is evident and a problem with GMO and conventional food. If there are farmers on the same street, one producing GMO food and the other producing conventional and there is a high wind or a bird carries over a seed into the conventional farmer’s field you now have a contamination issue.

What is Prop 37?

This November 2012, Californian voters will decide if GMO foods should be labelled in California. Proposition 37 requires companies to add wording to their labels if their food had been genetically modified and this is a huge step in the fight against GMOs. It is not a ban of GMOs but a lot of guess work regarding food will be removed for consumers. As a Canadian I think Prop 37 is so important because I think the rest of the US and Canada will follow. 50 other countries already have labels on their food for GMOs – why is North America always so far behind?! If you have friends in California make sure they know about their ability to vote on Prop 37 in a few months!

How to Avoid GMOs?

Buying labelled certified organic food is one way to avoid GMOs. Foods that are labelled ‘organic’ or ‘made from organic ingredients’ cannot contain any GMO ingredients. Foods on my personal shopping list radar are those containing soy, corn, beet sugar, artificial sugars and canola oil which has led to an immediate ban of cereals in my house. Want to see a scary GMO list? Check out the ingredients of Cheerios – yes that first food we give babies (and I feed my kids)…it’s GMO city. Here is a long list of genetically modified food. I think the number of baby formula companies & brands on this list is sick. I would assume the health effect of GMO food would be larger in a babies tiny system…no?

Missing from the below image is ‘growing your own food’. It should be there, but with so many families dependent on buying food, I think the most important action you can take from this article is support local and get to know your local farmers! I’ve spend the summer doing this with my family and the gratitude you feel towards a person that is creating safe, healthy food cannot be measured. Ask questions and find trusted food sources. Farmers markets, organic food stores, and local stores that carry locally produced food is the way to beat GMOs.

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Ultimate Eco Activity For Your Family

Back in April, I wrote an article highlighting an eco-friendly project for kids – Kid Friendly Eco Project.  The activity involved storm drain marking with fish decals to remind the public that water ways lead to fish.  I was very excited to reserve my marking kit with the city, but because of a fish decal shortage, I only received it this week.  I’m wanted to report back on the success of the activity.

Well, my sons and I loved marking the drains.  Actually, there is nothing my boys didn’t enjoy with this project.  I think I feel a paper route coming in their near future because they loved delivering the educational literature to the houses the most.  Of course at the beginning of this adventure, hitting the fish decals with the mallet was pretty fun too.  <smile>

The entire process of storm drain marking is wonderful for a family project. You put on a reflective vest, brush away debris from the road where you plan on putting the decal, then you pour the glue onto the road, peel and stick the fish decal, then pound it with a mallet approx. 100 times.  When you see the roadway bumps coming through the decal, you’ve done a good job.  These decals need 48 hours to completely stick to the road, so I’m really hoping people don’t lift them up before this time.  I guess this is another wonderful thing about having children.  Continue Reading →

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Whirlpool Mother of Invention Grant Program – US Residents Only

~~ update.  This program is only open to US residents ~~

Thanks to Laura who forwarded me this information regarding the Whirlpool Mother of Invention Grant Program.  Check out this program from Whirlpool – details below:

Whirlpool brand has recently kicked-off the fourth annual Mother of Invention Grant Program. In the past three years, Whirlpool brand has recognized and helped more than 15 moms turn their innovative ideas into reality.

The Whirlpool brand Mother of Invention Grant Program provides seed money and expert guidance to moms to turn their invention, business or service ideas into full-fledged businesses.  Contest winners receive:

-A $20,000 grant for the grand prize winner

-$24,000 in grant money for the four runners-up

- Appliance prizes

-Invitation to business boot camp where winners will receive guidance from Whirlpool and industry experts

This year, Whirlpool is greening the program by adding a new category focused on moms who create an environmentally friendly product/service or use natural/recycled materials to create their invention. 

More information and entry forms can be found at www.whirlpool.com/moms. Entries are accepted through July 31, 2008.

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