Monday, January 30, 2012

That's Gonna Leave a Mark!

Even with so much access to the internet, there are still many situations where we encounter printed materials, which need electricity, paper, and ink to be produced.  We all know that printing with recycled paper products can help us preserve precious natural resources, but did you know that many of the inks we use are petroleum-based?

It is estimated that two liters of oil are consumed for every commercial toner cartridge produced, and that U.S. commercial and government agencies use more than 100 million cartridges of toner a year.  In addition, these figures do not take into account the amount of oil need to produce inkjet printer ink for personal printers, or the amount of oil that is needed to make the cartridges that hold the ink.

Thankfully, there are multiple alternatives to using petroleum-based inks.  One such alternative is soy-based inks, which use much less, but still contain small amounts of oil.  The most eco-friendly options are vegetable-based or petroleum-free inks, which do not contain any petroleum. 

By choosing to use environmentally responsible inks over conventional inks and advocating for the same change in both government and private production, we can greatly decrease the amount of oil that we consume.  If we add using recycled paper and recycling old and used ink cartridges to the equation, then we can affect great change with little effort and make significant progress in eliminating the need for petroleum while protecting our natural resources and the environment.


Soy Print

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What's In A Name?


You'd likely assume that something called a chicken nugget would consist of chicken, right?  You might want to think again.  Considering the fact that United States boasts the highest yearly fast food consumption, as well as the largest oil consumption of any country, I'd say it's high time that we make some connections here.    

Truth be told, about 50% of a fast food chicken nugget is made up of synthetic ingredients, coming straight from (you guessed it)...a petroleum plant.  You probably didn't think about the fact that it could just as accurately be called a dimethylpolysiloxane nugget that you're dunking into your BBQ sauce (main ingredient: high fructose corn syrup).  Or perhaps not even the fact that your flavor enhanced "chicken" likely travelled hundreds of miles in an ammonia-induced frozen state in the back of a semi truck before reaching your tray.

We've long established that fast food has an extremely negative impact on our waistlines and cholesterol levels, and we're now becoming more aware of it's negative impact on our environment.  So let's quickly address the pros.  Convenience?  Speed?  More bang for your buck?  

It certainly delivers a bang alright, but is it really the kind we're looking for?  Perhaps it's time to reconsider hitting that drive thru for dinner...

There are plenty of healthy, quick options out there (that even kids will approve of!) Here's a few tips for on the go eats:

1. Plan ahead. At the beginning of the week, arm yourself with non-perishable items that can be kept in your purse or car.  A few of my favorites are:
     -Dry roasted almonds 
     -Dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries
     -All-natural energy bars
     -Soy crisps (or other baked chips/crackers)
     -Dry oatmeal (just add hot water!)  

Get creative...the possibilities really are endless!

2. Be careful at the coffee shop! Many of those "signature beverages" have ridiculous amounts of added sugar, making your coffee the caloric equivalent of a milkshake! Don't hesitate to ask for an ingredients list, and make changes to your drink as you see fit.

3.  The same rule applies to smoothie shops.  Although they may seem like the healthier option, many of the drink options are sweetened far beyond what is necessary.  Look for ingredients and ask questions! 

And if you simply must hit the drive through for dinner...

4. Modify your meal.  Look for low-cal options (many chains are offering lighter fare menus). Ask for sauces on the side, opt for grilled chicken rather than fried, and easy on the sides, those calories can add up quickly!

5. Don't fall into the salad trap! Many drive-thru salads have worse nutritional stats than the burgers. Hold off on the creamy dressings and additives such as bacon, croutons, and sour cream. And whatever you do, never ever trust a salad that comes served in a deep-fried tortilla!

Hopefully these tips will help guide you through the scary world of eating on the go.  For more tips, check out the sites below.

Happy Eating!

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Hidden Problem With Oil

          I am writing this post from my house in California. I am writing this post on my laptop. My room is furnished with a desk, a chair and a bed. My house is furnished with couches, TV stands, other chairs and various decorations such as bamboo, flowers, paintings and 2 televisions. I am working under a source of light that is coming from a light bulb that hangs just above my desk. All of these products depended on the use of petroleum in order to get to me. They were all shipped in some fashion using gas powered trucks or planes.  
                My computer was made in part due to petroleum. The electricity that is powering my computer and my light source comes from petroleum. I don’t know exactly which power plant, but it is a safe bet to say that the power source is either gas or coal. Burning coal is an extremely inefficient method of energy. The food I have just eaten for lunch came to me by the use of petroleum. I bought it at a grocery store in which I had to travel to using a gas powered car. Though my car gets about 25 miles per gallon, I still consumed gas to get to the grocery store. All the food at the grocery store arrived via truck. This truck was also powered by gas; without the use of gas powered trucks and cars I would not have anything to eat.
                The clothes on my back were made in part because of petroleum. At the plant where my clothes are made, the light sources are powered by petroleum. The machines that sew the threads together are made with petroleum. The tag on my shirt indicates that it was made in Honduras. How did it get from Honduras to me? Whether it is by boat or by plane or by truck, there is definitely gas and/or petroleum being consumed in order for my shirt to get to me in the United States.
                The problem with petroleum, or oil, is that it is the back bone of our society. What happens when it becomes scarcer than it is now? We deeply depend on foreign oil and as time passes our dependency increases. It is now imperative that we come up with alternative forms of energy. Solar and wind power are great sources of energy. But how do we wane ourselves off of our oil dependence? Petroleum is the basis for nearly every aspect of our society. Most of us heat our houses in the winter using gas. Gas bills continue to rise as it is harder and harder to find enough resources to fill the demand.
Many of the environmental problems the world faces today can be traced back to fossil fuel dependence (UCS). The effect of fossil fuel dependency can be vividly clear when we look at the BP oil spill that happened a couple years ago off the Gulf Coast. Millions of gallons of oil were spilled into the water. This inhibited fisher men from doing their job. Careers were in jeopardy because of the pollution that occurred. Aside from the impact on humans, many of the natural wild life were in jeopardy due to the water being contaminated with so much oil. I recall seeing pictures of birds that were covered in oil. It was made clear that humans are disrupting the natural order of things by going after oil. Not only the native wildlife was put in jeopardy, but many restaurants and tourist attractions were put in jeopardy because of the oil spill. Countless workers wondered where they would get their pay check because of the pollution that was caused.

"The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels." Union of Concerned Citizens. (2002): 3-1. Web. 27 Jan. 2012. <>.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Guide To Good Eating

Something a lot of us seem to overlook is the kind of journey our meals go on before they reached our stomachs. Did they come on a big truck across the US? Were they flown in or did they come from another country by boat as an import? Even more so than thinking about the journey, even few of us probably give much thought to what kind of resources it takes to ensure that delicious home-cooked dinner your mom makes every Sunday reaches the kitchen table. Thousands of gallons of oil are used every year to transport food products across the country. Oil that could be saved or used elsewhere if we made an effort to eat more local foods.

That's where the Eat Well Guide comes in. This super-easy-to-navigate website is an awesome resource in helping to find better ways to eat. Not only are the foods they have listed healthy, fresh and organic, but this guide also helps to locate delicious options that are grown right near you--so they don't have to travel very far to reach your table. You can search by your zip code to find the stores and restaurants nearest to you, as well as search specifically for products that you might be in need of. Thanks to this guide I recently found an absolutely delightful all-natural pizza parlor less than ten minutes from my house. YUM!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wax 101

If you're anything like me, then you collect candles and burn them in your home, mostly for relaxation-purposes. What you might not realize, however, is that most of these candles are made with paraffin wax, which is derived from crude oil and contains petroleum (a non-renewable resource) by-products. This means that, when burned, they contribute to indoor air contamination, by emitting petro-chemicals that lead to soot deposits.

A better alternative is to look for candles based on beeswax or soy-based waxes. These are better for the air, as the are all-natural, and non-hazardous. And unlike paraffin wax, it is biodegradable. Check out the site below, where you can buy these natural candles, or look for them in your own area.

Ecomall: A Place To Help Save The Earth

How Much Petroleum Cost on Our Health, on Environment and on Economy !

For more information

Petroleum is used in our technology, food and equipment. Simply, we can say that “Petroleum” is considered the secret of our era! Although we appreciate the importance of petroleum and how it simplifies our lives, we know that how using petroleum too much brings a lot of negative impacts to our health, to our economy and to our environment. Thus, lots of researchers devote their time to study the cost of using petroleum in our lives.
It is observed in the majority of countries that consume a lot of petroleum.  For Example, California consumed around $ 160 million last year and this amount raises every year. That will affect negatively the economic status. When we had a look at how petroleum cost our economy and health, we found it in transportation as an example. In crowded cities, more petroleum is consumed in transportation and that cost around $17.3 billion in 2003. However, transportation is one cause of air pollution and that is dangerous sign for health problems and environmental impairment. It is calculated that $ 12.3 billion per year is spent on hospitalizations as a result of air pollution, while 70$ billion is spent a year on health-related prevention procedures from death. 
Environment is also affected from different aspects. Air pollution is the first effect which is considered a result of excess transportation and that leads to global warming which is considered a world problem these days. The second effect is on plants. In other words, air pollution affects the farming, especially the soil. The Oceans is also affected from cruise liners and merchants. All of that leads societies and governments to find practical solutions to reduce the negative effects and cost of petroleum by using alternative fuels and oils. 

Shears. J. (2006). Bottom of the Barrel: the Hidden Cost of Petroleum Use in California. Research
Coordinator Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Petroleum In Everyday Products

Most people only think of a handful of applications for the use of petroleum. However, there are thousands of ways that petroleum is used within products that most people utilize on a regular basis. This is scary because of the harmful effects that long-term exposure to doses of petroleum can have on the human system. Here is the beginning of a long list of products that contain petroleum. Some of the categories include many plastics, cosmetics, medical equipment, clothing, paints, and other materials. Petroleum is one of our main sources of energy, but with the advancements in alternative energy, hopefully that won't be true for long. Avoiding products with hidden petroleum in them can help the environment and help yourself from being exposed to too much of this chemical.

Think You Can’t Make a Difference? Think Again.

These days, most of us are all too aware of the unfavorable carbon footprint we are leaving for future generations.  We hear it all the time, from government, media, environmentalists, and so on.  There is no doubt that as a country, we rely far too heavily on oil, and as a result, are depleting our natural resources at an alarming rate.  If you’re like many people, you probably think that you need to drive a Prius, grow your own food, and live in a solar powered house in order to make a difference.  I’m here to tell you that this not the case.

We all know the basics: drive less; walk more, turn off lights, buy organic, etc.  But have you ever actually stopped to think about the hidden sources of oil consumption?  Things such as bubble gum, crayons, and chopsticks?  These are examples of items that fly under the radar so to speak, and there are far more of these hidden sources than one might think.  Click here for a product list that will have you shaking your head in disbelief. 

The truth is, as individuals, we have far more power than we know.  Do you remember when reusable grocery bags became a trend?  Well, that one “small” choice made by earth conscious shoppers certainly got the attention of the government, who is now placing bans on plastic bags in many US cities.  That one small step has led to a quite large leap in our nations conservation efforts.  And it goes even further than that.  It was reported by CNN that China will reduce it’s oil consumption by 37 million barrels each year because of their ban on plastic bags.  Not such a small step anymore, right?

The point is, there are numerous other steps we can take that can have a major impact on our environment.  The key is awareness and understanding.  Once we know the impact we have as individuals, we can focus our attention on making a concerted effort towards a greener world.  Below is a link to an interactive site that educates on the use of oil in our daily lives.  Check it out, and don’t ever hesitate to make that small change, whatever it may be.  Who knows, it just could end up being the new "green" trend.

The Hidden Oil In Your Food

Quick, where have you used oil today?  Did you think of your car? Maybe you use oil to heat your residence, or as a lubricant for a machine you own? There is another use of oil that is rarely discussed, food production.

Food production in the United States uses oil for growing, processing, storage and preparation during transportation and at home, packaging, and food retailing and catering. The Earth Policy Institute has researched the relative amounts of oil each food production activity consumes. One of the striking results from the research is that the United States consumes as much energy on food production in one year as France. 

One of the largest uses of oil in food production is transportation and storage during transportation. It is now possible to enter any well stocked supermarket and be relatively sure of having fresh fruits and vegetables from thousands of miles away available for purchase. Most likely that produce was transported to the market using oil. Perishable items such as fruits and vegetables require energy intensive methods of storage, typically by air and truck. Buying local is one way to minimize the oil footprint of the fruit and vegetables you consume.

Another hidden use of oil in the food network is the use of inorganic fertilizer and pesticides verses organic based farming methods. There is a marked increase in the amount of oil used to mine the chemicals necessary for inorganic fertilizer versus organic methods such as using manure or a crop rotation method. Buying organic food at the store is another way to reduce your oil footprint.

Can we live world without crude oil?

Life as we know it today would be extremely difficult without crude oil. The name of petroleum come from Greek Language petra” or “petros” which means rock, and the Latin word “oleum” which means oil or fat. Crude oil has touched our lives in countless ways every day. We use to fuel our cars, heat our homes and cook our food, clothes. Oil makes easy for farming implements such as tractors and refrigerators machines that keeps the fruits and vegetables cold and fresh, another facts a lot of these are essentially based on oil, the Commercial food processors almost entirely dependent on the production and delivery of boxes, metal cans, printed paper labels, food transportation, plastic trays, cellophane for microwave/convenience foods, glass jars, plastic and metal lids with sealing compounds. As it now the choice is too little yet we cannot live a world without crude oil. 


Monday, January 23, 2012

The Oil Weapon

Crude oil has managed to become the most essential commodity of our time. Becoming one of the dominating forces with the ability to drive or sink any nation’s economy. Wars have been fought and lost for the purposes of oil diplomacy. Oil has become what sugar was to imperial Spain, the spice trade to the Mongolians, and king cotton to the antebellum south.  Dismantling its infrastructure along with its dependencies’ would ensure a power shift across the globe.

Roger Stern’s article “Oil Market Power and United States National Security” highlights some of the driving forces of oil diplomacy with what he calls the oil weapon. Stern’s describes the oil weapon as an embargo tool imposed by the oil producing nations as a means of attack for the intended nation’s economy. While the oil weapon has never been used Stern’s suggest that the fear of such an attack is driving factor for the US appeasement policy in the Middle East.

After reading about the oil weapon I was of Iran’s threat of closing the straits of Hormuz, which according to Caitlin Talmadge article “Closing Time” traffics around 90% of the entire Gulf’s oil. Luckily for the US Iran didn’t go along with this threat.  


Closing Time by Caitlin Talmadge

Oil Market Power and United States National Security by Roger Sterns


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pacific Plastic Island: Tropical Getaway or Chemical Wasteland?

A typical flight from Hawaii to Japan takes nearly 7 hours. If you happen to get so lucky and take the long route over the Pacific Plastic Island, you would see a large floating rubbish collection nearly twice the size of Texas starting off the coast California, passing by Hawaii, and ultimately reaching the coast of Japan. Although fairly new in its discovery, spotted first in the early 90’s by American Oceanographer, Charles Moore, the Pacific Plastic Island has already been accredited with bringing several species of marine life to near extinction, and the effects are multiplying each year people don’t recycle and industry boats and beach visitors litter. 
In 2006, America produced an estimated 1.3 million tons of plastic PET water bottles, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil, and 76.5 of these bottles ended up in landfills or the ocean. This 100 million ton flotsam has everything from plastic water bottles to legos to kayaks. It is not only long in its stretch, but also has an incredible depth, researchers finding vast areas extending all the way to the ocean floor. 
A garbage patch by any other name would smell as sour. This coagulated pile of waste has many names, often referred to as the Trash Vortex or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but either way you say it, this destructive accumulation accounts for millions of wildlife deaths, toxic emissions, and a growing set of issues that cannot be reversed. An estimated several hundred leatherback turtles die each year because they swallow plastic nurdles (lentil-sized pellets of plastic accounting for 10% of all marine plastic debris). These miniature pollutants act as chemical sponges, and once they are consumed, they enter the food chain for generations to come, even landing on our dinner plates. 
It is important to know that we as humans do not have a magic wand to erase our trash. It is building up in our oceans and with the durability of today’s materials, it will not be going away any time in this century. Reducing the amount of plastic-packaged products in one’s every day life will not only lower the amount of petroleum oil needed to produce such items, but also reduce the hazardous effects on animal and plant sea life.  Check out the video on the following link to see these “modern day marine tumbleweeds” (Greenpeace, 2012). 

Avoid cosmetics that contain petrochemicals

One way to preserve our finite supply of petroleum may be easier than you think. You can choose to stop putting it on your face. That’s right. Many cosmetics contain petrochemicals, and lip gloss flaunts a petroleum based formulation that shows up on many women’s lips.

If you’re interested in finding another way to keep your pout shiny, try making your own sustainable gloss with this tutorial from Planet Green.  You can even reuse an old container.

Lip gloss is just a starting point. You may be surprised by the petro- ingredients in your shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, and nail polish as well. Keep harmful chemicals out of your beauty routine by limiting the number of products you use and researching your products in Skin Deep.  Skin Deep is the largest repository for cosmetic safety information. According to them,petroleum distillates are linked with cancer and restricted in cosmetic use by the European Union. If you would like more information on the health risks associated with petro – cosmetics take a look at this body map created by The Ecology Center.

Driving Less, Accomplishing More

One of the easiest ways to participate in helping to create a sustainable planet is to reduce the amount of fossil fuels the you are responsible for using. First of all, the less someone drives, the less carbon emissions they will be responsible for. Secondly, fossil fuels are a finite resource, which are extremely valuable for the survival of the human race—in the production and transportation of food, in heating one’s home, in producing electricity, and myriad factors that contribute to a more comfortable way of life. To help reduce the harmful impact of driving in excess, as well as to aid in conserving the energy resources we still have, limiting one’s driving can be a very effective method.
 There are several easy ways a person can reduce the amount of miles that they drive. One great way to reduce the amount a person drives is to use public transportation whenever possible. Those of us that live in Portland, Oregon have many public transportation options. TriMet has buses that have dozens of routes throughout the Metro area. TriMet also runs and operates light rail and streetcar lines that are easily available to the public. Rather than driving around town in a car by one’s self, TriMet provides citizens the opportunity to reduce the number of automobiles that would typically be traveling around the Portland Metro area on a daily basis.
Other ways people can reduce the amount they drive is to consider alternatives such as walking, riding a bike, or participating in carpool programs with co-workers or classmates. People can also group errands together, so that instead of making several short car trips around town, they can have one long trip, accomplishing the same tasks, using a fraction of the gas.
I am not suggesting that reducing the amount we drive will save the environment, but I can say without a doubt, that it is a step in the right direction. The main purpose in reducing the amount one drives is not necessarily to save money, though that will undoubtedly come as a result, but to reduce an individual’s carbon footprint, which has the effect of decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which has been on the steady incline since the dawn of the industrial revolution. If we continue to use fossil fuels at the same rate as we currently are, the ecological impacts will surely be devastating.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sustainability requires a sustained effort.

Ever since I became cognizant of the fact that every product we use contains the fingerprint of petroleum I have pondered why.  The reason is that they can be mass produced cheaply. A prime example, and perhaps the most obvious is the plastic container. Not to mention the consumer product itself, every item we buy is encased and transported in plastic. Lunch containers, clothes bins, zip-loc bags, etc. can be cheaply obtained, so much so that we neglect the idea of recycling them and just throw them in the trash because we can always get new ones. The green movement that we are going through is certainly a positive trend in the right direction. Large supermarkets no longer support plastic bags and instead opt for a reusable canvas or paper bags.

I must also point out however, that though it is a good contribution towards our planet that we each do our part when we can, it is not enough. To effect change, we must make sustainability not just a convenience or a fad; it must be a priority. We need recognition and resources, we need to break away from the established methods of production and implement new ones. All this is very hard to do. There are great forces against us, namely the government and large corporations. What incentive do they have to adopt a new business model? Why should they throw out an efficient and profitable petroleum-based manufacturing flow and replace it with new, unproven, and costly methods. Why should the government invest in renewable energy sources when it is risky and promises no immediate benefits?  Politicans, corporations, and individuals within the decision-making sphere are the biggest obstacles must also embrace change.

What about the developing nations? Just as a person will have no time for philosophy if his stomach is hungry, the developing nation has neither time nor resources to care about the planet. Their interest is in increasing GDP, increasing the standards of life for their citizens, or in the case of a country with a corrupt government: to fatten the ruling party's wallets.

As we can see, effecting change is more difficult than the most optimistic of us would like to believe. All odds go against what members of a Eco project class can do, and is precisely so because after this term is over, most of would go back to the way we were living. I would like to start this blog off with the mindset and theme of continual contribution to the planet, regardless of who we are, where we are, and the situation we may find ourselves in. We must become activists for the rest of our lives. The goal of sustainability will take several lifetimes, but it will only work if we are diligent in our path for all the days of our lives.