Microbeads are a sign of our plastic consumer madness (Written by David Suzuki)

Science Matters – Microbeads are a sign of our plastic consumer madness

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

How much are whiter teeth and smoother skin worth to you? Are they worth the water and fish in the Great Lakes? The cormorants that nest along the shore? The coral reefs that provide refuge and habitat for so much ocean life? Are they worth the oceans that give us half the oxygen we breathe, or the myriad other creatures the seas support?

If you use personal-care products such as exfoliators, body scrubs and toothpastes containing microbeads, those are the costs you could be paying. The tiny bits of plastic — less than five millimetres in diameter, and usually from one-third to one millimetre — are used as scrubbing agents. Now they’re turning up everywhere, especially in oceans, lakes and along shorelines. They aren’t biodegradable.

Research by the 5 Gyres Institute found an average of 43,000 beads per square kilometre in the Great Lakes, with concentrations averaging 466,000 near cities. Tests on fish from Lake Erie found an average of 20 pieces of plastic in medium-sized fish and eight in small fish. Cormorants, which eat fish, had an average of 44 pieces of plastic each. Microplastics have been found in the oceans and even under Arctic sea ice. Scientists at Australia’s James Cook University found corals starving after eating the tiny beads, their digestive systems blocked.

It’s not just the plastic that harms animals; the beads absorb toxic chemicals, making them poisonous to any creature that mistakes them for food or that eats another that has ingested the plastic — all the way up the food chain. Because humans eat fish and other animals, these toxins can end up in our bodies, where they can alter hormones and cause other health problems.

It’s a high price to pay for limited benefits from unnecessary personal care products. Exfoliators and scrubs can use any number of harmless natural ingredients, including baking soda, oatmeal, ground seeds, sea salt and even coffee grounds. Microbeads are not only pointless in toothpaste; they can be harmful. Dentists and hygienists are finding plastic particles embedded under people’s gum lines, which can cause inflammation and infection.

The folly of producing and marketing products without adequate regulatory oversight and consideration of long-term consequences makes you shake your head. As Great Lakes study researcher Sherri Mason told the Ottawa Citizen, producers haven’t given much thought to anything beyond the fact that the beads wouldn’t clog drains. “There wasn’t that forethought, which is often the trouble with man and the environment,” she said.

Microbeads illustrate the excesses of marketing and consumerism, but they’re only part of the problem. Most plastics eventually break down into microparticles, often ending up in oceans and other waters, where they’re eaten by organisms ranging from tiny plankton to large whales. Some plastic has even started to fuse with rocks, creating a substance new to our planet that scientists call “plastiglomerate”.

According to British Antarctic Survey scientist David Barnes, “One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics.”

That’s astounding, considering mass production and widespread use of synthetic, mostly petroleum-based plastics only began in the 1940s. Barnes and other researchers who compiled research from around the world say more plastic was produced in the first decade of this century than in the entire previous hundred years.

Microbeads are among the newer developments in the brief history of our plastic lifestyle. The 5 Gyres Institute launched a campaign asking companies to remove them from products. So far, L’Oreal, The Body Shop, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have agreed to do so. Several U.S. states and European countries are planning to ban the beads, and Environment Canada is studying the problem. The federal NDP has introduced a motion to ban them here.

As consumers, we can avoid products containing microbeads and put pressure on companies and governments to end their use (5 Gyres has an online petition). And, because more than a third of all plastic is disposable packaging, such as bags and bottles, we can and must limit our overall use, and reuse or recycle any that we do use.

Plastic has made life more convenient, but many of us remember a time when we got along fine without it.

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March Blog

Digestive enzymes have helped me so much.  Sometimes you have to experiment and try different kinds to see what suits your needs the best.  I usually suggest plant enzymes first and if you don’t get the results you want then move up to digestive enzymes.  Plant Enzymes cover all your food groups; whereas Digestive Enzymes cover about 4 to 5 food groups but also has hydrochloric acid which is the acid that breaks down your food.

I have customers who take them regularly and have said they have less or no bloating now and much less digestive issues including gas.

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Plastic Waste Is Killing Our Oceans (Written by David Suzuki)

We have to stop filling and killing the oceans with plastic

(Credit: Kevin Krejci via Flickr)

Article by the DAVID SUZUKI ENVIRONMENTAL FOUNDATION

Eight million tonnes. That’s how much plastic we’re tossing into the oceans every year! University of Georgia environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck says it’s enough to line up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline in the world.

A study published by Jambeck and colleagues in the journal Science on February 12 examined how 192 coastal countries disposed of plastic waste in 2010. The report, “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean”, estimates that of 275 million tonnes of plastic generated, about eight million (based on a midpoint estimate of 4.8 million to 12.7 million tonnes) ends up in the seas — blown from garbage dumps into rivers and estuaries, discarded on beaches or along coastlines and carried to the oceans.

China tops the list of 20 countries responsible for 83 per cent of “mismanaged plastic” in the oceans, sending between 1.32 and 3.53 million tonnes into the seas. The U.S., which has better waste-management systems, is number 20 on the list, responsible for 0.04 to 0.11 tonnes. Some countries in the top 20 don’t even have formal waste-management systems. The fear is that, as human populations grow, the amount of plastic going into the oceans will increase dramatically if countries don’t improve waste-management systems and practices — and reduce the amount of plastic they produce and use.

Scientists don’t know where most plastic ends up or what overall effect it’s having on marine life and food supplies. They do know that massive islands of plastic and other waste — some as large as Saskatchewan — swirl in five gyres in the north and south Pacific, north and south Atlantic and Indian oceans. But that’s only a small amount of the total.

Plastic is everywhere in our seas. It accumulates on the sea floor and in sediments, washes up on coastlines and is taken up by fish and other sea creatures. It affects birds, fish, mammals and other marine life. It eventually breaks down into smaller bits, which can look like fish eggs and get eaten by marine animals, but it never biodegrades. Those particles, or microplastics, just keep building up. They also absorb and concentrate toxic chemicals, poisoning the animals that consume them. Studies show that 44 per cent of all seabird species have plastic in and around their bodies, and fish, birds, turtles and whales often become fatally entangled in plastic waste.

Even the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went down over the South China Sea in March 2014, was confounded when investigators looking for crash evidence kept finding plastic debris.

Humans depend on healthy oceans for food, water, air, recreation and transportation. Oceans contain more than 97 per cent of the planet’s water and produce more than half the oxygen we breathe. They also absorb carbon — important to reducing global warming. Half the world’s people live in coastal zones, and ocean-based businesses contribute more than $500 billion a year to the global economy.

What we do to the oceans and the life therein, we do to ourselves. So what can we do to keep them — and us — healthy?

The report’s authors say reducing “mismanaged” plastic waste, regulating the amount of plastics that enter the waste stream and improving waste-disposal methods in the top 20 offending countries are all essential. But, Jambeck notes, “It’s not just about improving the infrastructure in other countries. There are things we can do in our daily lives to reduce the amount of waste plastic we all produce.”

Canada’s relatively good waste-disposal and recycling systems keep us off the 20 worst offenders list — but we can still do better. Reducing the amount of plastic we use is the first step. For consumers, that means avoiding overpackaged goods and unnecessary plastic items, such as bottled water, single-serve K-cup coffee pods and disposable products. We must also get better at reusing and recycling. According to a report by theU.S. non-profit As You Sow, plastic is the fastest-growing form of packaging, and only about 14 per cent gets recycled.

Oceans and the life they support face numerous threats, from climate change to overfishing. Reducing the amount of plastic we dump into them is a challenge we can meet. Let’s get on it.

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February Specials!

I am excited that we are now carrying Bio K in our store. I took it a number of years ago, and now ask myself why I ever stopped. I recently started taking it both in the original and strawberry flavor again. What a difference it is making. I feel like my intestinal tract is lighter and I have a cleaned-out feeling that makes me feel more energized. I definitely feel a difference.

New Roots is a Canadian company with high product integrity. The thing I really like about New Roots is that they put in all the necessary ingredients to make their products more bio-available on a cellular level, allowing more comprehensive absorption.

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