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 Kamar Nor Aini Bt Kamarul Zaman
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 Ventura Country Star
 Eye On The Environment: Read the labels on all green products

10/08/2008 (Ventura Country Star) - Have you heard of "nutrition fatigue"? It is a term for the problem faced by nutrition advocates after years of telling people so many things are dangerous to human health.

People stop paying attention. The problem is made worse by conflicting claims and counterclaims. One day something is bad for you, and the next day it has redeeming qualities.

The same problem might be happening with all things green. People overwhelmed by all the green noise of environmental claims might cynically turn away from the issue and stop paying so much attention to what's being said.

Fortunately, many efforts are under way to ensure truth in labeling. On the legislative front, Assemblyman Pedro Nava recently sent to constituents a summary of legislation he is currently considering, including Assembly Bill 1851. Nava said the bill would ensure that consumers buying "global warming offsets" or "carbon offsets" would actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The bill would set minimum standards ensuring that "offsets are real and not counted more than once."

Certification of environmental claims is overseen by public, private and nonprofit groups. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designates energy-saving appliances with an Energy Star label. Home Depot is beginning to use an Eco Options label on products after ensuring claims are valid. The Forest Stewardship Council awards FSC certification to products made from wood harvested in ways that avoid deforestation (through replanting above legally required standards), water runoff (through precautionary measures taken when harvesting timber on slopes) and other sustainable practices.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a group of industry and environmental representatives, certifies palm plantations committed to standards for producing palm oil.

These certifications, however, are not always perfect. For example, critics, such as Glenn Hurowitz in Grist Magazine, cite a Greenpeace report accusing the palm standards of being useless because the group does not inspect the tree plantations to see if they are actually following the guidelines.

In some cases, if you want a green product, you have to consider the ingredients. For example, when buying a detergent, look for labels saying "phosphate free." A bill with bipartisan sponsorship by senators in the Great Lakes region was introduced May 15 to ban the sale of residential dish detergents containing more than 0.5 percent phosphorus, starting in 2010.

Waste News, a publication serving the waste industry, quoted Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, as saying phosphorous causes "harmful algal blooms and the dead zone that emerges every summer" in Lake Erie.

Although Ventura County does not seem to have dead zones, phosphorous likely has similar effects in local ecosystems, causing excessive algae growth. That leads to bacteria consuming dead vegetation when the algae dies, depleting oxygen from bodies of water and resulting eventually in the decline of fish populations.

In other cases, it is useful to carefully read the wording of an environmental claim. For example, the word "recyclable" and the arrows of the recycling symbol do not necessarily mean a product is recyclable in local programs. Curbside recycling programs in Ventura County do not recycle plastic foam, despite the recycling symbol printed on foam cups and packaging.

The term "recycled," however, has real meaning, especially if a label further specifies "post-consumer recycled," which means it was made from material recycled after its useful former life as a product. This contrasts with "post-industrial" recycled content, which means a product was made from factory scrap that is relatively easy to recycle.

Perhaps most confusing are claims with no specific meaning. A product label bragging "natural" or "degradable," or a food label saying "not sprayed," might have no useful significance. In contrast, a label such as "USDA Organic" means a food was certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as meeting strict standards regulating use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Every time you buy a product, you send a message to the manufacturer to "make more like this."

By keeping an eye on environmental claims, you encourage manufacturers and growers to keep an eye on the environment.


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