Friday, April 9, 2010

Chapter 20: Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services by: Boris Worm et al.

For the final chapter review for our unit we return to the oceans and animals life. And once more the chapter starts off with and intro paragraph. "Ecologists think the loss of biodiversity is a problem because it threatens the stability of of ecosystems and the potential ability of life to adapt to changes in climate and other conditions." A human connection to this concern is from farmer who have noticed a decline in the number of wild bees and other pollinators. This means that crops are starting to come under threat. Overfishing has become threat to fish populations which in turn could lead to a major economic impact on the live of individual fishers. This was found by Dalhousie Universities Boris Worm et al.
"Human-dominated marine ecosystems are experiencing accelerating loss of populations and species, with largely unknown consequences." Worm ant eh University analyzed local experiments as well as long term regional time series, etc, to test how a loss of biodiversity will marine ecosystems. They determined that loss of biodiversity is "increasingly impairing the the ocean's capacity to provide food, maintain water quality, and recover from perturbations." Recent surveys suggest that local biodiversity may enhance the productivity and stability of an ecosystem. However it is less clear how the importance of biodiversity changes at the landscape level and local experiments and theories don't seem to easily extend to long-term long-scale management decisions. Changes in marine biodiversity are cause by pollution, exploitation, habitat destruction and through indirect means such as climate change and perturbations in ocean biochemistry. Regional ecosystems such as coral reefs and coastal and oceanic fish communities are losing populations, species or entire functional groups rapidly.

Now onto the next section which is titled Experiments and deals with the...experiments... performed by Worm and the University. First off was a look at the effects of variation in marine diversity in areas such as primary and secondary productivity, resource use, nutrient cycling and ecosystem stability in a total of 32 controlled experiments. I will simply quote the results directly from the chapter since it is worded best here: "Increased diversity of both primary and secondary producers and consumers enhanced all ecosystem processes. Observed effect sizes correspond to a 78 to 80% enhancement of primary and secondary production in diverse mixtures relative to monocultures and a 20 to 36% enhancement of resource use efficiency." That's a pretty profound set of conclusions. Experiments that manipulated species or genetic diversity also showed that diversity enhanced ecosystem stability. Experiments with diet came to similar ends. Different diets were needed for various processes such as growth, survival and fecundity.

Now we come to the section describing experiments related to Coastal Ecosystems. Here long term regional trends were documented from a detailed database of 12 coastal estuarine ecosystems and other sources. Trends were examined in 30-80 different economically and ecologically important species per ecosystem. Records show that over the past millennium have shown a rapid decline in native species diversity. "Overall, histroical trends led to the present depletion Ihere defined as >50% decline over baseline abundance), collapse (>90% decline), or extinction (100% decline) of 91, 38, or 7% of species, on average." Only about 14% recovered from collapse and these species were mostly protected birds and mammals. "These regional biodiversity losses impaired at least three critical ecosystem services: number of viable (non-collapsed) fisheries (-33%); provision of nursery habitats such as oyster reefs, sea grass beds, and wetlands (-69%); and filtering and detoxification services provided by suspension feeders, submerged vegetation, and wetlands (-63%). The loss of the filtering services were suspected of contributing to declining water quality and the increase in algal blooms, fish kills, oxygen depletion and shellfish and beach closures. Sea level rise was suspected to be caused by loss of floodplains through the decline of wetlands. Loss of native biodiversity also coincided with the invasion of non-native species and these invasion did not compensate for the loss of diversity. The data suggests that substantial loses in biodiversity are closely associated with the loss of regional ecosystem services and increasing risks for coastal inhabitants.

Now for a look at Worm's et al work on Large Marine Ecosystems. The experiments performed here were the largest in scale, due to the nature of the ecosystem being tested. The global catch database from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other sources were used to gather data. Data on 65 Large marine Ecosystems (LME) was taken from 1950 to 2003. LME's are large (>150,000 square km) reaching from estuaries coastal areas to seaward boundaries of continental shelves and major current systems. These areas collectively produce 83% of global fishing yield since 1950. "Globally, the rate of fisheries collapses, defined here as catches that drop below 10% of the recorded maximum, has been accelerating over time, with 29% of currently fished species considered collapsed in 2003." Cumulative yields across all species has dropped by 13% or 10 million metric tons since passing a maximum in 1994. These collapses occurred at a higher rate in species-poor ecosystems. Fish diversity ranged from 20-4000 species and was influenced fishery related services in several ways. "First, the proportion of collapsed fisheries decayed exponentially with increasing species richness." Diversity also appeared to increase robustness to overexploitation. "Rates of Recovery, here defined as any post-collapse increase above the 10% threshold, were positively correlated with fish diversity. This positive relationship between diversity and recovery became stronger with time after collapse (5 years, r = 0.10; 10 years, r = 0.39; 15 years, r = 0.48)." A reason for enhanced recovery at high diversity may be that fishers can switch more readily amongst the species and thus potentially providing over fished taxa with a chance to recover.

Marine Reserves and Fishery Closures. One question floating around management is if the loss of services can be reversed, once it has occurred. Data was analyzed from 44 fully protected marine reserves as well as four large-scale fisheries closures. An average of 23% increase in species richness of target and non-target species (the species that are a staple of the fishing industry and others that are not fished for yet exist in the ecosystem of the target species). The increase in biodiversity also lead to increases in productivity seen in a four fold increase in in catch per unit effort in fished areas around reserves. ``Community variability, as measured by the coefficient of variation in aggregate fish biomass, was reduced by 21% on average. Finally, tourism revenue measured as the relative increase in dive trips within 138 Caribbean protected areas strongly increased after they were established." These results suggest that at this point it is still possible to recover lost biodiversity at least on local scales. This recovery is accompanied by increase in productivity and tourism.
Now, for the Conclusions. Worm et al state that with the current extrapolation of data the collapse of all fisheries taxa will occur sometime in the mid 21st century (a 100% regression by 2048). Another conclusion is that the elimination of locally adapted populations and and species impairs and the ability of marine ecosystems to feed our growing human population and sabotages their stability and recovery potential. High-diversity systems were found to provide more services with less variability. This has economic and policy implications. ``First, there is no dichotomy between biodiversity conservation and long-term economic development, they must be viewed as interdependent societal goals. Second, there is no evidence for redundancy at high levels of diversity; the improvement of services was continuous on a log-linear scale. Third, the buffering impact of species diversity on the resistance and recovery of ecosystem services generates insurance value that must be incorporated into future economic valuations and management decisions." To wrap it all up, increasing biodiversity act as a safe guard/buffer against environmental collapse (as well as economic) and we must handle our oceanic resources carefully so as to ensure we do not lose this buffer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chapter 33: At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima or Why Political Questions Are Not All Economic: By Mark Sagoff

Well I can tell right off the bat that this chapter will be mostly, if not entirely, political in nature.

Well lest get on with it. The into paragraph starts out with stating that we need policies to "guide those responsible for setting ecological and environmental protection policies." The big questions are who will decide how the policies should be formed and on what basis should the decisions be made? Survey have shown that the ranking of significant environmental threats by the general public and by environmental scientists both have very different priorities. Mark Sagoff is the director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy (IPPP) at the University of Maryland as well as President of the International Society of Environmental Ethics (ISEE). He is also the author of many works such as The Economy of the Earth: Philosophy, Law and the Environment (Cambridge University Press, 1988). In this chapter which is taken from the book after which the chapter is named (as always), Sagoff discusses his belief that environmental problems are complex and require more comprehensive assessment than can be made on the basis of economic analysis alone. Essentially he is saying we can't look at the issues or problems within the environment from a purely economic point of view, we need a deeper understanding of them.

The key concept of this chapter is: the limitations of economics in making environmental policy.

We start off with the first section covering the story behind Lewiston, New York near Buffalo and Lake Ontario Ordinance Works, where the federal government decided to dump the residues of the Manhattan Project. Residents say that a south wind blows radon gas through the town. At a recent conference Sargoff attended several parents expressed their concerns and fears surrounding the discovery of cases of leukemia that had been found in children in the area. Meanwhile New York State officials said that people who smoke take greater risk than those who live near waste disposal sights. The parents were not happy. The officials then describe the people as "neurotic" because they refused to recognize or act upon their own interests. They didn't see how risk-benefit analysis had anything to do with the issues they raised. Along the Military Highway are numerous landfills and the decaying remains of abandoned factories.

Now onto the section titled Political and Economic Descisionmaking. This section is concerned with the economic and political decisions we make about the environment. Some people believe that these two should be the same ideally and that all problems with the environment are problems in distribution. This train of thought puts control of the issues right in the consumers lap. It is the individuals values and willingness to pay. Justice and fair society then becomes a matter of distributing goods and services so that more people get more of what they want. Thus the only values we have are those that can be priced in a market. The problem with this idea is that not all people think of themselves simply as consumers. and many of us regard ourselves as citizens. We act as consumers to get what we want for ourselves and as citizens to get what we believe is best for the community. The issue then is do the goals of the consumer and citizen ever overlap? Will a person vote for the things they buy? In short, no. Sargoff then provides some examples of how we think differently when our different roles are involved. He loves his car and hates the bus, yet he will support a candidate who to tax gasoline to pay for public transport. He has an "Ecology Now" sticker on the bumper of a car that leaks oil. Here lies the question as to whether the public economy should serve the same goals as the household economy.

Cost-benefit Analysis vs. Regulation is the next section. Here we are given a historical tidbit. On the 19th of February in 1981 President Reagan published Executive Order 12,291 which required all administrative departments and agencies to support every new major regulation with a form of cost-benefit analysis that established that the benefits of the regulation to society outweighs the costs. A month before a dispute arose between lawyers for the American Textile Manufacturers Institute over the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which was to severely limit the acceptable levels of cotton dust allowed in textile plants. The lawyers claimed the benefits would not outweigh the costs. The Supreme court, (after an opinion was past on the dust issue) found that the OSHA need not be supported by cost-benefit analysis. The Supreme Court also said that "Congress, in writing a statute, rather than the agencies applying it, has the primary responsibility for balancing benefits and cost." This opinion supported the principle that legislatures aren't necessarily bound to any sort of concepts of regulatory policy. Agencies also need not justify the standards they set on cost-benefit grounds. The purpose of the Reagan Administration is to make economic goals more apparent in regulation. The author feels it is foolish to take the the Administration too literally as you cannot solve worker safety and environmental law can be reduced to simply a matter of cost-benefit accounting.

Now onto Substituting Efficiency for Safety. The OSHA was passed in 1970 and was a big win for labor unions. In it it instructs the Secretary of Labor to set "the standard which most adequately assures, to the extent feasible...that no employee will suffer from material impairment of health of functional capacity even if such employee has regular exposure to the hazard..for the period of his working life." An example of this is given when in 1977 the Secretary lowered the parts per million (ppm) exposure level to benzene from 10 to 1ppm. The American Petroleum Institute (API) argued with much evidence that the benefits to the workers did not equal the costs to the industry. The standard therefore did not appear to be rational. The Secretary stood by this standard however on the grounds that the law demanded it. The view was that "an efficient standard might have required safety until it cost the industry more to prevent the risk than it cost workers to accept it." The United States Court of Appeals agreed with the API. This narrowly base Supreme Court decision had a division over the role of economic decisions in in judicial review. Justice Marshall concluded that the decision of the court "requires the American worker to return to the political arena to win a victory that he won before 1970." The decision of the Supreme Court raised many questions. Should courts only uphold only political decisions which can be defended on economic grounds? Should democracy only be allowed so long as it can be constructed as a rational response to a market failure or an attempt to redistribute wealth? The problem behind all this is "An efficiency criterion, as it is used to evaluate public policy, assumes that the goals of our society are contained in the preferences individuals reveal or would reveal in markets." Essentially this ideal assumes we speak our opinions through how much we are willing to pay, rather than listening to and reponding to our views and opinions.

Liberty: Ancient and Modern. Efficiency doesn't work as the criterion of public safety and health as it leads people to ignoring competing visions on what society should be like. It bases overeating off of the market an assumes that is how people think. There are two roles for everyone being the legislator and the consumer. The legislator will not be treated as a bundle of preferences to be juggle in a cost-benefit analysis. Also refered to as the individual, they are to be treated with respect. Benjamin Constant wrote an essay describing this titled De La Liberte des Anciens Comparee a Celle des Moderns. It is a comparison of the ancient world to the modern one in which he (Constant) states that the despite the modern world being more focused on privacy and civil over political liberties, "the individual rarely perceives the the influence that he exercise," The area of natural environment is under the control of public values rather than individuals. Just as we refuse to look at worker safety as a commodity, we refuse to treat the resources from the environment merely as public goods in the economist's sense. How can we balance efficiency with moral. So far Sargoff says that legislative debate and ending in a vote is the best methods we have so far.

Values Are Not Subjective. Essentially this section is a repeat of the cost-benefit analysis information presented throughout the entire chapter so I will only briefly highlight any extra information presented. This section basically describes the viewpoint of the analyst. All valuation happens in foro interno (debate) or in foro publico (has no point). In this format the reasons people give their views does not count only how much their willing to pay to satisfy their wants (as if this were not already beaten into our skulls so far). Economists argue that their role as policy makers is valid as they are neutral among competing values in society. According to James Buchanan the political economist, "is or should be ethically neutral: the indicated results are influenced by his own value scale only insofar as this reflects his membership in a larger group." The beauty of cost-benefit analysis is: "no matter how relevant or irrelevant, wise or stupid, informed or uninformed, responsible or silly, defensible or indefensible wants may be, the analyst is able to derive a policy from them - a policy which is legitimate because, in theory, it treats all of these preferences as equally valid and good."

The next section is titled Preference or Principle? In this section we explore whats called a Kantian conception of value. "The individual, for Kant, is a judge of values, not a mere haver of wants, and the individual judges not for himself or herself merely, but as a member of a relevant community or group." The principle and idea behind this concept is that some values are more reasonable than others. Kant recognizes that values, like beliefs, are states of mind which have an objective content as well. So far we have covered two ways of thinking, the cost-benefit/analyst approach and the Kantian approach. The general message from this section is that there are some questions and issues better suited to the first approach (such as the ration of Frisbees produced to yo-yo's) trivial things, while issues that have an knowledge, wisdom and/or morality component. The latter must be viewed through a Kantian perspective to be dealt with properly, because issues such as abortion can hardly be dealt with in a price margin fashion.

The final section is The Citizen as Joseph K. and is a bit of a wrap up of the Lewiston affair that started off this chapter. The people wanted to know of the dangers they were experiencing and if the sacrifice asked of them was legitimate. The response they received from the corporations was a personalized one. "just people serving people," was what the people were given and is consistent with a particular view of power. It identifies power and with it the ability of an individual to get what they want. If an official were to put aside their personal interests, it is assumed that they put aside theri power to. The people Lewiston are trapped and do not know how to criticize, resist or justify power. For to do this depends on distinctions being made between good and evil, innocence and guilt, etc. Sargoff says that we cannot abandon the moral function of public law. "The antinomianism of cost-benefit analysis is not enough."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chapter 31 - Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment By: Sandra Steingraber

This chapter may prove interesting since it hints at a possible connection between the environment and cancer. There may likely also be a reference to Love Canal as well due to the affects seen in it inhabitants.

Now onto the intro paragraph. Sandra Steingraber is the author of Post-Diagnosis (Firebrand Books, 1995) which is a volume of poetry that is based upon her personal experiences with bladder cancer. That coupled with the loss of a close friend to cancer along with the knowledge that cancer affected many members of her immediate family, drove her to study the research of a Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1962).When Steingraber explored the sources of pollution she was exposed to around while growing up in Illinois she found numerous sources of pesticides and some industrial plant near the Illinois River that were a source of pollution.She then wrote the book from which his post is titled and a excerpt is taken. In it she argues through poetry and fact that we can reduce our exposure to environmental carcinogens and discusses reckless industrial agricultural pollution.

The key concept of this chapter is: the need for further research on environmental factors in cancer incidence.

Sandra begins with s description of how people react when she tells them about her fight with bladder cancer in the past. numerous people assume she is simply from a family unlucky enough to have a strain of cancer, she is adopted however, meaning the cancer must have been caused by something other than genetic heritage. A main idea in this early section is that families share environments and that can lead to even adopted children sharing similar health issues. One fact presented is "Deaths of adopted parents from cancer before the age of 50 increased the rate of mortality from cancer fivefold among adoptees...Deaths of biological parents from cancer had no detectable effect in the rate of mortality from cancer among the adoptees."

Sandra then lists relatives that have died of cancer including two aunts and two other relatives on her Father's side as well as an uncle currently undergoing treatment. Her brother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer at 21 (he also cleaned out chemical drums for a living), three years before that Sandra was diagnosed and three years before that her mother was diagnosed. Her mother was diagnosed in 1974, a year which saw a small spike in breast cancer incidents. This was partially because the First Lady Betty Ford and Second Lady Happy Rockefeller underwent mastectomies, of which word spread. Women then rushed to doctors and a large number of people were diagnosed in a short space of time.

The next section is dubbed Ecological Roots. In 1983 on a train ride to a cancer test Sandra noticed a headline on a newspaper back page article titled: Scientists Identify Gene Responsible For Human Bladder Cancer. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology extracted DNA from a human bladder and were able to identify the exact alteration which caused a certain gene to go bad. In essence what happens is that a gene gets crossed for another (like snow and show, or black and block) This caused the cell to manufacture valine instead of the amino acid glycine.

Thirteen years later Sandra was in possession of numerous scientific articles involved with bladder cancer. Two suppressor genes (p15 and p16) are involved as well by being deleted. p53 is also a common gene in many cancers including about half o bladder cancer incidents. The relation between these genes and other processes has been determined and here is a quote from the section to explain some of it: "Consider, for example, that redoubtable class of bladder carcinogens called aromatic amines - present as contaminants in cigarette smoke; added to rubber during vulcanization; formulated as dyes for cloth, leather, and paper;used in printing and color photography; and featured in the manufacture of certain pharmaceuticals and pesticides." That is a fair number of places to find what are essentially health threatening toxins. The first cases of excessive bladder cancer reports was published in 1895. Aromatic amines detoxified from the body through a process called acetylation which is handled by various genes. People with low levels of these enzymes are more at risk for bladder cancer. More than half of Americans and Europeans are estimated to be slow acetylators.

Bladder cancer is one of the most studied cancers and has given much insight into cancers of all kinds and their various stages. However, we have been unable to use all this knowledge to wage an effective campaign against bladder cancer. "Th fact remains that the overall incidence rate of bladder cancer increased 10 percent between 1973 and 1991. Increases are especially dramatic among African Americans: among black men, bladder cancer incidence has risen 28 percent since 1973, and among black women, 34 percent." Less than half of bladder cancer incidence among men and one-third of incidence among women is thought to be from smoking, the single largest known risk factor for the disease. The question remains as to what causes it in the rest of the people who live with it. From a file she posses Sandra wrote that "industries reporting to the Toxics Release Inventory disclosed environmental releases of the aromatic amine o-toluidine that have totaled 14,625 pounds in 1992 alone." O-toluidine is in residues in the dyes of commercial textiles. In 1996 a study showed a sixfold increase of bladder cancer amongst workers who were exposed to the substance. Sandra also states that what her folders don't contain is "a considered evaluation of of all known and suspected bladder carcinogens-their sources, their possible interactions with each other, and our various routes of exposure to them." To expand on this some examples include scenarios such as multiple articles of clothing being washed together, the ecological fate of the sources of the cancer and why - almost a century after their identification - are carcinogens such as amine dyes used and released into the environment in the first place?

There are believed by Sandra to be several obstacles preventing us from addressing cancers' environmental roots. One is that the bulk of cancer research is devoted to inherited cancers which is a mistake, One supporting fact is that only 1-5% of colon cancers are hereditary whilst only 15% show any familial component, and the remaining 85% is referred to as "sporadic". Even when inherited cancers appear there is usually an environmental component or influence.

Cancer rates are not increasing because we have suddenly begun to sprout new cancer genes. In a world free of aromatics and other such toxins we would see far fewer incidences and people born as slow acetylators would not need to worry about exposure or risk and people who inherit defective genes would not need to worry about environmental exposure triggering a potentially life-threatening disease. We are causing increasing incidences of cancer though the mishandling of toxins.

Sandra takes a few paragraphs to describe the waning days of Rachel Carson. In the last year of her life she stood before the U.S. Senate subcommittee and shared her views on environmental contamination and human rights. In her novel Silent Spring she urged the recognition of a individuals right to to know about any poisons introduced into their environment and the right to protection against said poisons. Sandra then states that she believes the process of exploring to know more about carcinogens in our environment is a three-part inquiry. She then uses The character of Scrooge as a metaphor by stating that we need to look back at our past, reassess our current situation and imagine an alternative future. She then describes the process in some detail which I will simply sum up. We start retrospectively for two reasons with the first being an appreciation (not in a good way) of the fact we carry carcinogens in our bodies and still remain in contact with banned chemicals such as PCBs and DDT. Secondly We need to pay attention to possible sources of cancer and the effects of substances such as pesticides over the course of time, since cancer does not just appear out of the blue, but unfolds over a period of decades. We need to know what pesticides were sprayed in our neighbourhoods and what chemicals we keep under the kitchen sink. We must also cross-reference such things with our neighbours to reminisce with people and places we grew up in to open our eyes to possible health threats. We must keep tabs on our genealogical and ecological roots.

Now we come to a section discussing the human rights aspect. "A human rights approach would also recognize that we do not all bear equal risks when carcinogens are allowed to circulate within our environment." People who work with these substances are at higher risk for health related issues and people are not uniformly vulnerable to the affects of carcinogens. "Cancer may be a lottery, but we do not each of us hold equal chances of "winning."" Sandra then puts things into perspective via an example to demonstrate the issue of dealing with carcinogenic cancers. Assume that the conservative estimate of 2% representing the number of carcinogen related cancer is true. That means about 10,940 people in the U.S. die of environmentally caused cancers every year, which is higher than the number of women who die from hereditary breast cancer. "This is more than the number of children and teenagers killed each year by firearms - an issue that is considered a matter of national shame." Yet no funding is provided for studying environmentally caused cancers while millions is poured into breast cancer research and this is not recognised as a source of shame? Sandra then states that the 10,940 Americans will not die quick peaceful deaths or show up in newspapers. She then rights: "These deaths are a form of homicide." There are some strong words which I will not debate about in my blog but should be not be ignored. We should all think about that statement at least a little bit.

Now for the ending section. To end off this chapter Sandra presents the principle of the least toxic alternative, which basically states that toxic chemicals shall not be used so long as the task at hand can be accomplished another way. This means we must chose the least harmful way of solving problems form cockroach removal or stains from woolens. Any movement away from zero toxic chemical use should be preceded by a finding of necessity. and then coordinate active attempts to develop affordable non-toxic alternatives. This principle is designed to move us away from the debates of how to treat or avoid cancers related to carcinogens in the environment and unwinnable battle to set maximum limits on their presence in the water, air, food, workplace, etc. The principle is supposed to make us look toward the release of carcinogens in the environment as unthinkable as practicing slavery.

Issues With Lake Winnipeg

Today we discussed the major issue in Lake Winnipeg; eutrophication. This has already been covered in earlier posts so I will simply leave the definition we were given today.

Eutrophication: "Excessive nutrients in a water boy usually caused by a runoff of nutrients (animals waste, fertilizers, sewage) from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life; the subsequent decompositions of the plant depletes the supply of oxygen in the water, leading to the death of animal life."
The algae is a major issues in Lake Winnipeg since so much phosphorus is coming in. The wetlands that filter it out are overwhelmed. Where does it all come from? Well some from the U.S., some from Saskatchewan via the rivers, and the rest from Manitoba, with Winnipeg producing about 6% (mostly from overflow in the sewer system). When all the algae dies it decomposes on the bottom of the lake and uses up a lot of oxygen. This can lead to the deaths of numerous aquatic animals despite the algae providing a smorgasbord of of food for fish.

Biosolids are one of the main sources of excess nutrients and are defined in class as;

Biosolids: "Solid organic matter recovered from sewage treatment plants and used as fertilizer."

Going back to he sewer overflow it is understandable how Winnipeg (via the Red River) can be such a threat to Lake Winnipeg. Currently their are projects to counteract excessive nutrients such as the upgrading of Winnipeg's waste water treatment plants to remove phosphorous.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Greenpeace Electronics Audit

The link below leads to a method "scale" by Greenpeace to rate how green your electronics are when it comes to disposal. It ranks various electronics companies based off their effort to remove the worst toxic chemicals from their products.

There are 5 criteria for the ranking as listed on a pdf document detailing the whole process:

1. A chemicals policy based on the Precautionary Principle
2. Chemicals Management: supply chain management of chemicals via e.g. banned/restricted substance lists, policy to identify problematic substances for future elimination/substitution
3. Timeline for phasing out all use of vinyl plastic (PVC)
4. Timeline for phasing out all use of brominated flame retardants (not just those banned by EU’s RoHS Directive)
5. PVC- and BFR-free models of electronic products on the market.

Here is a link to the pdf:

For this post I shall list various electronics brands used in my home and their ranking on the scale and discuss my findings. The scale has a range of 0 to 10 with zero being a fail and 10 being completely green.

Motorola (2 cell phones), 1.7/10
Acer (1 laptop, 1 desktop, 2 LCD monitors), 2.3/10
Apple (1 Ipod), 2.7/10
Panasonic (VCR), 3.3/10
LG (LCD monitor), 4.3/10
SONY (digital camcorder, Blu-Ray Disc player), 4.7/10
HP (2 Desktops, 1 Laptop, 3 printers), 4.7/10
Some of the electronics in my house were of brands not listed (our TVs are modern Soyo and an old RCA). However I was shocked to find out how poorly most companies have managed the removal of hazardous toxins substances from electronics. Apple was the most shocking as the company always seems to be proud of how well they manufacture their products, so I believed they would have been closer to the top of the list. Motorola was a disappointment since they make very nice phones and have sold numerous ones such as the RAZR. HP was a bit of a let down since they have made it a major point of expressing how fine their products (mostly printers and computers) are yet they didn't even make it halfway up the scale. This tidbit of info from the pdf also is a let down:
"HP loses point: In September 2006, one penalty point was deducted from HP’s overall score when testing of an HP laptop revealed the presence of a type of brominated flame retardant, known as decaBDE. In its Global Citizen Report 2006, HP states: “HP eliminated the use of decaBDE many years ago and has no plans to re initiate its use.” Moreover, of the five brands of laptops tested by Greenpeace with results released in 2006, only the HP laptop was found to contain lead."
Acer was also depressing to read about since we have over the years found their computers and monitors to be very dependable. we still use some of the older computers made by Acer we have around the house since they still prove useful.
In the end it seems I may make some changes (my family as well when they read this) when it comes to purchasing electronics. Motorola isn't going to be an issue to much as my family is moving towards Blackberry's (yet they may possibly not be to hot either in the green department but the list doesn't include this brand). HP is a heavy hitter in my home when it comes to electronics as we have 3 computers and printers active and in use from this company. I may switch to Dell when it comes time to replace any of these items since Dell does have good products and they ranked high with a 7/10. In reality my family has never disposed of items such as the ones listed above. We have the old TV in the basement to use, the various older laptops are taken on trips when someone has work to do or to surf the web in a hotel room and a VCR can get a few bucks at a yard sale rather than zip from entering the trash. However when the items start to pile up needlessly we will search out companies and organizations that have proper methods of disposal rather than merely dumping the item into a trash can. We do the same with old batteries.
Overall I am disappointed by the electronics industry for not putting in more effort to remove substances that we know to be harmful. Its a bit of a "How can this happen in this day and age?" scenerio.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


This is a new term for some people and while I have heard of it I only in this class learned exactly what ewaste is. Essentially, ewatse is anything that is man made such as paper, plastics and chemicals. Some substances such as mercury are included to. Over 50 million tonnes/year of ewaste is formed globally with 140,000 tonnes e-waste/year coming from Canada (2003). That's about 4.5Kg/Canadian. Most of it is toxic heavy metals.

Here are some of the metals and their uses and effects:

- 4750 tonnes disposed/year in Canada
- Solder, gasses

- Chip resistors, infrared detectors, plastics and conductors

- 22% of global mercury use from electronics
- Used in batteries, switches, housing
- Neurotoxin, Bioaccumulates and biomagnifies

Now for plastics:
- Its used in housing, cabling
- Productions and incineration – dioxins, furans
o Carcinogen, endocrine disruptor, liver damage
- Bisphenol A, phalates

And Brominated Flame Retardants (PBDE’s)
- Printed circuit boards, connectors, plastic covers and cables
- Endocrine disruptors and neurotoxin
- Persistent in environment

What can we do about these harmful substances and the negative impact they are having on our environment? Some solutions include Waste Management, Procurement and through Technology development:
- Contain fewer toxic constituents
- Energy efficient
- Designed for easy upgrading/disassembly
- Use minimal packaging
- Offer leasing or take back options
- Meet performance criteria showing they are environmentally preferable

Paper has its own issues and unique solutions:

- 1983-2003: nearly doubled (shocking in the digital age but remember that some people feel the need to print off every email and tax document (however the latter is sound and safe thinking))
- 91Kg, 20,000 pages/person/year
- Excess paper storage
- Associated toner, binders, etc

Solutions (paper)
- Recycling
- Reduction
- Rethinking?

Ocean Plastics

Here we get into the topic of plastics and garbage finding its way into our oceans. First off I would like to list some properties of plastics when it comes to degredation:
- Photo degeneration
- Molecular plastics
- Concentration in the neuston
o May be too small to be seen

Concentrations of plastics reached 1 million pieces per square mile. The study found concentrations of plastics of 3.34 pieces with a mean mass of 5.1 milligrams per square meter. Now when you stop to think about it, thats a fair bit of unnatural material in our oceans waters. One thing we learned that shocked me was the actual existance of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
As defined by Wikipedia: "also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N Although many scientists suggest that the patch extends over a very wide area, with estimates ranging from an area the size of the state of Texas to one larger than the continental United States, the exact size is unknown. Recent data collected from Pacific albatross populations suggest there may be two distinct zones of concentrated debris in the Pacific."
Essentially, it is a culmination of garbage dumped into the oceans from various countries boardering the Pacific Ocean. A "continent" of trash. The albatross that live near this monster do not realize that it is NOT food and feed it to their children, who have been known to have bodies filled with bottlecaps as they cannot be digested or broken down in any way. its really creepy. I have heard of such thing but thought of this patch as a more doomsday scenerio or myth. It is really shocking to be proved wrong. It freaks me out to know that we (people) have inadvertantly created an oceanic garbage dump/continent.
Some more impacts on wildlife by plastics in our oceans includes:
- Resemble zooplankton
- Consumed by jellyfish, entering the ocean food chain
- Plastic : zooplankton, 7:1
- Marine birds and animals
o Sea turtles
o Black footed albatross (mentiond above in the section of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch)