September 2, 2017
by ecobeth
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Malta’s Environment Through the Eyes of The Genista Research Foundation


The Genista Foundation, run by Mark Causon, PhD and a team of dedicated volunteers is a Maltese nonprofit organization that maintains an area of land which I got to visit during my recent trip to Malta. It is a peaceful oasis of native flora, near Fort Rinella, Kalkara, on the southeast side of Malta’s main island. Genista has carried out numerous educational projects in Malta and abroad, engaging disadvantaged youth and international students from European universities in personal self development while connecting with the land and learning agricultural practices hands-on. The Foundation grows the Maltese National Tree, the Gharghar tree, the rare Genista plant, carob, olives, and also Widnet il-Baħar, a native Maltese bush with purple flowers. The site is 100% solar powered, and has a rain barrel system to capture rain water that is used to irrigate the plants. From Dr. Causon, who has been doing environmental education for years and also helps maintain Malta’s only forest, Buskett Gardens, I learned about environmental issues happening in Malta.

For one, Malta’s total energy use is just under 600MW (this is about 1/10 of Long Island’s usage). Having closed down an old electric plant in Marsa several years ago, the Maltese government recently switched to using natural gas instead of heavier fuel, so the country’s emissions have declined. A gas pipeline is being contemplated, from Italy to Malta. While an overdependence on cars has caused traffic to increase, there are at least electric vehicle (EV) charging stations around Malta put in place by the government. EVs are just starting to become popular there. Unlike the U.S., biodiesel is for sale there right at regular gas station pumps.

Malta is a member of the Paris Climate Agreement, and as a European Union (EU) nation, must participate in achieving the EU’s goal of 20% energy generated from renewable sources by 2020. Malta is well suited for solar and many homes have solar thermal units on their roof to heat water. Solar electric use has been slower to take off, but as of 2016 the government was offering a 50% incentive up to €2300 for the first 7000 homes to switch. A grant of 40% up to €400 is available for solar hot water heaters. Offshore wind had been considered off of St. Paul’s Bay but it was found that the depth of the sea floor and competition with other uses of the sea made it difficult. Codes restrict placement of wind turbines on land, but I have seen a few.

Malta derives its drinking water from desalinization of seawater. There are three sewage treatment plants on the main island of Malta, one in the north and two in the south, that process sewage and then release remaining effluent into the sea. Solid waste used to be deposited into a large unlined dump in Maghtab next to the sea, where methane-fueled flames could sometimes be seen. That has since been closed and there is a modern, properly lined landfill located next to it with technology to capture the methane. A new waste recycling facility had been built by Wastserv in San Antnin, Marsascala several years ago, but it unfortunately caught on fire in May 2017 and has to be rebuilt. In some towns such as Sweiqi, the local council has established a system of organic waste collection. Households put all appropriate food scraps in a black bag for it to be picked up and composted. As of now this is a pilot project, so let’s hope it is successful and becomes the norm in all Maltese Towns.

Rainwater system at Genista Research Foundation, Malta

A major issue of contention in Malta has been bird hunting. Many birds stop in Malta as part of their migration routes between Europe and Africa, and populations of some species have been declining over the past few years due to loss of habitat and other factors. In Malta bird hunting is a popular sport and though there are regulations, some environmental groups say illegal poaching abounds. A referendum held in 2015 to ban the spring hunting season was rejected but the debate continues on. Fish farms have also been a problem, with the oily sludge-like feed sometimes washing up near the shore and ruining a good day of swimming.

In positive news, Malta was the first country to ban the use of the pesticide glyphosate in 2016 after the World Health Organization declared it to be a carcinogen. Dr. Causon played a role in developing the policy. In addition to the Genista Foundation, Malta also has a strong showing of environmental organizations that keep moving the conversation forward—such as Nature Trust, Friends of the Earth Malta, Birdlife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Gaia Foundation, Permaculture Malta, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar (Together for a Better Environment). Many of these groups work to preserve remaining open spaces and avert excessive development which is a consistent pressure in the small island of Malta.

To learn more and support these organizations follow the links above.
–Beth Fiteni, MSEL

May 27, 2017
by ecobeth
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Thinking Twice About Fish Oil Supplements

      It is very important to our brain, eye & heart health, mood, and immune system to consume healthy levels of Omega 3 fatty acids (in specific, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)). While they can be obtained by consuming fish, fish do not produce Omega 3s — fish derive them from microalgae. Some fish may be contaminated with mercury and other toxins that bioaccumulate up the food chain. (For information on safer fish, see the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition’s “Fishful Thinking” resource.) Fish typically used for supplements include Cod liver, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, Herring, and Salmon. These don’t tend to be high in mercury but may contain PCBs.

      There are, however, concerns about impacts to marine ecosystems from fish farms and overfishing of oceans, meaning taking fish out faster than they can reproduce. According to World Wildlife Fund, “More than 85% of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits… Several fish populations (e.g. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna) have declined to the point where their survival as a species is threatened.” (For more information on which fish populations are threatened vs. more sustainable, see seafoodwatch.org). Since fish are living beings that feel pain, there is also an ethical issue with unabated consumption; humans need to awaken to this and take responsibility. Not to mention recent news of fish being found with plastic particles in their stomachs due to human pollution.

      The good news is that there is no need to consume fish. Some companies market Omega 3s made directly from microalgae. For example, Nordic Naturals offers Algae Omega. It is recommended to obtain a minimum of 250-500 mg of Omega 3s per day, and this product contains 570 mg (320mg of DHA and 180mg of EPA). Another product, Ovega-3 Vegetarian/Vegan Omega-3, contains 135 mg EPA, 270 mg DHA. Other non-fish sources of Omega 3s include:

  • flaxseeds and flax oil
  • canola oil
  • walnuts
  • soybeans (edamame), and
  • hemp, pumpkin, and chia seeds

Note that these contain the fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which the body can convert to EPA and DHA, though the conversion is not perfect so you may want to consume a bit extra. Omega 3s must also be balanced with intake of Omega 6 (we need less of that), so be sure to do your research on what is right for you.

– By: Beth Fiteni

 

April 17, 2017
by ecobeth
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Earth Day tip: Stop Food Waste!

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Movie review: “Just Eat It”

Did you know that about 40% of food produced globally goes to waste? That before it even makes it to market, 20-70% of fruit gets discarded just because of aesthetics? And that households, not restaurants or grocery stores, are the largest source of food waste?

All food contains embodied energy and resources – for example, a 1/3-pound burger requires 660 gallons of water.[1] In addition to the ethical issue, 97% of the food wasted goes to landfills, where it ends up creating methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. People often think that the “sell by” or even “best by” dates are the date by which it must be consumed- this is not the case. Food is often good for days or weeks after that. All of this is highlighted in the recent film, Just Eat It, which follows an American couple who lived off food waste for 6 months — not buying any food, only eating what was discarded. Seeing them find trash bins full of fresh food was depressing and eye-opening.

So what can we do?

  • Take stock before shopping so you only buy what you need
  • Prioritize perishables in your fridge, and store them in Green bags that keep food fresher longer (debbiemeyer.com/products)
  • Freeze and label leftovers
  • Support groups like Community Solidarity which rescues food and gives it to those in need right here on LI
  • Help raise awareness; that’s what led to legislation like the Good Samaritan Act of 1996 which encourages food donation to nonprofit groups

For more tips on not wasting see:      foodwastemovie.com

Books on Food Waste:

  • American Wasteland, by Jonathan Bloom
  • Waste, by Tristram Stuart

[1] http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-gallons-of-water-to-make-a-burger-20140124-story.html

February 12, 2017
by ecobeth
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A Gem in the Catskills

by Beth Fiteni

Though in existence for over 40 years, I only recently discovered a gem in Woodburne, NY called Sivananda Yoga Ranch. It is a sweetIMG_2055 little nonprofit retreat center where guests and volunteer staff follow a daily routine to keep body, mind, and soul healthy. The day includes yoga and Kirtan (sung prayers) twice a day and two healthy vegetarian meals made with their own garden vegetables when in season. They also just got their solar panel project up and running! The tradition followed is based in 5 principles of proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet (they teach workshops on permaculture and earth care), and positive thinking. Though based on Hindu tradition taught years ago by Swami Sivananda, the philosophy embraces the idea that there is one God with many faces so all faiths are welcomed, respected, and reflected in their small library of spiritual books. With a beautiful view of the mountains, simple affordable accommodations, and peaceful nooks for relaxation, the Ranch provides a nice get away to get centered & refreshed. It is one of multiple international Sivananda retreat centers around the world, and I look forward to seeing more of them—especially the one in the Bahamas!

 

 

December 29, 2016
by ecobeth
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Reimagining New Year’s Resolutions

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by Marisol Maddox

The beginning of a new year in our Gregorian calendar is culturally a time of renewal and fresh starts. We often focus on trying to improve ourselves as individuals, but maybe it’s time to re-envision what it is we are striving to achieve. I posit that we have been underestimating our capabilities, and we should realize that the self-reflective resolution making process creates an opportunity for more meaningful introspection and change. Perhaps in addition to a personal wellness goal, we can choose a goal that relates to our larger values system, and our footprint on the world.

Impact. The word has largely come to be associated with something negative, but there are positive impacts too. Spend some time thinking about the ways in which you impact the world and its inhabitants. Do your actions result in the kind of impact that you want to have? Focus on tangible actions. What are some small changes that you could make that would lead to a greater positive impact?

  • Pledge to not buy clothing you do not need.
  • Buy a certain percentage of clothing from fair-trade, eco-fashion companies.
  • Avoid buying plastic- seek out non-toxic alternatives.
  • Only buy non-toxic/ eco friendly gifts for kids’ birthdays.
  • Volunteer for a local organization that could use your help.

Play.What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?” – Robert Michael Pyle

If you have kids, consider how much of their play time and interactions include screens and technological devices. How often are they getting to enjoy the outdoors in an unstructured way, so that they get the chance to use their imaginations? Pledge to consciously unplug a bit more than you have been.

Listen. With tremendous partisanship and polarity comes the challenge of finding ways to bridge that gap (from both sides) so that respectful dialogue is once again possible. In order to do that effectively we need to hear what the other person is saying. In order to hear, we need to be quiet, and actually listen. Do you feel yourself not so much listening but just waiting for the chance to speak? What is the difference between listening and really hearing? Perhaps you could aim to be more present in conversations with others, and try to notice the difference in the way that it feels. Becoming a better listener will impact all of your relationships, not just the political divide.

Share your thoughts in the comments section. We would love to hear your new year’s resolutions! We wish everyone a blessed and green ‘17.

November 1, 2016
by ecobeth
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Film Review: “Seed”

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A key message of the new documentary Seed is that though the human race depends on a few main crops, the biodiversity of the earth is vast and there are many varieties of plants that we have not endeavored to cultivate. This not only dulls our palate, but is also a cause for species and biodiversity loss. Currently, 90% of the world’s seeds are sold by chemical companies like Monsanto. Many are genetically engineered and patented, placing genes from one species into other species, to encourage desirable traits such as increased growth and weather tolerance. But this doesn’t mean they are infallible. In fact, 1.4 billion lbs of pesticides are used globally each year. The film showed a community in Hawaii suffering health effects from pesticide drift on Monsanto test fields. Renowned activist & author Vandana Shiva pointed out that spliced genes may carry viruses with them, and that genetic engineering takes place throughout the food supply though nobody has actually voted for it. The film features a Canadian farmer who was sued by Monsanto for patent infringement, because his field became cross-pollinated with their genetically altered seed. If a farmer buys a company’s seed believing the advertisements that it’s better than the seed he/she saved, and that crop fails, then the next year the farmer has to buy new seed again but may lack funds to do so. In India, 270,000 farmer suicides have been recorded due to debt.

This is why saving seeds of original, heirloom plants is so important. Large seed banks in New Mexico and Norway have been established. The international organization Slow Food maintains the “Arc of Taste” featuring numerous uncommon edible plants from around the world. On Long Island, the LI Regional Seed Consortium hosts an annual seed swap in Riverhead. See www.lirsc.org. The LI “cheese pumpkin” was almost eliminated in favor of other varieties, but several local farmers had saved the original seeds and the cheese pumpkin is making a comeback. One LI farmer, part of the consortium, raises 350 varieties of tomatoes. Many organizations are calling for GMO labelling in the U.S. which is already the law in over 60 other countries. See www.seedthemovie.com and @Seed_TheMovie

September 24, 2016
by ecobeth
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The Dirty Dozen: Highlighting Pesticides in Produce

For those unfamiliar with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), their list of the “Dirty Dozen” can be a great tool for prioritizing organic purchases. The list was revised this year, based on USDA data, to most accurately reflect the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of toxic pesticides. These pesticide levels were measured after produce had been washed and sometimes even peeled. The findings by the USDA revealed that 146 different pesticides were found amongst the produce tested.

Key findings that stood out to me were that, “a single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides,” “single samples of strawberries showed 17 different pesticides,” and the average potato contained “more pesticide by weight than any other produce.”

I find it helpful to carry a credit-card sized version of this list in my wallet so that I always have it with me when grocery shopping. It can sometimes be difficult to find organic versions of produce but this list helps me to prioritize. It has had a significant impact of my shopping habits because I will go without certain products, like celery, if I can’t find an organic version. I would rather do without it than know that I am ingesting something toxic. I love strawberries but I don’t love the idea of being exposed to 17 different pesticides, so I only buy them in season and from farms that use organic practices. I do eat them a bit less but I have found that I enjoy them more when I do.

On the other end of the spectrum, EWG issues a list of the “Clean Fifteen.” This list singles out produce that is least likely to contain pesticide residue (after being washed). I was overjoyed to find that the avocado, one of my favorite things to eat, is on that list.

For basic staple items, it is good to know that I can buy a bag of onions and not worry as much if they aren’t organic. By the same measure I have developed a strictly organic potato-buying habit because I know that the fungicides used by conventional farmers permeate the skin and become enmeshed within the potatoes themselves. Washing them, in that case, does little to nothing.

If you can buy everything organic that is great because you are voting with your dollars to support farmers that use organic methods, but doing anything that you can makes a difference, both to the farmers and to your health.

To read about EWG’s methodology, as well as to view sources for some studies showing the dangers of pesticide exposure, please visit EWG’s Executive Summary.

-By: Marisol Maddox

July 9, 2016
by ecobeth
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Thumbs Up on Permaculture Film “Inhabit”

Slow Food North Shore members Lynda Morella, Bhavani Jaroff, Amy Peters, and Shana Einhorn join film director Costa Boutsikaris at Long Island screening of "Inhabit"

Slow Food North Shore members Lynda Morella, Bhavani Jaroff, Amy Peters, and Shana Einhorn join film director Costa Boutsikaris (in green) at Long Island screening of “Inhabit”

The film “Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective” (2015) directed by Costa Boutsikaris is an inspiring overview of the concept of permaculture which is deliberate design process that utilizes a set of principles to focus go beyond sustainability and work towards regeneration. As shared by experts across the U.S., some topics discussed in the film were resilience planning, composting toilets, rain gardens, no-till farming, and how there should be no such thing as waste. One interesting example was Michael Phillips’ holistic orchard where he forgoes pesticides in favor or a fermented microbial spray, with impressive yields. Instead of domination of nature, these efforts were described as orchestration, and “a symphony that comes together, and we just assemble the pieces.” Similarly, there was the example of Wellspring Forest Farm, a commercial mushroom operation that was functioning outdoors in a natural environment, rather than indoors as commercial mushrooms are typically produced. Charles Eisenstein, the author of Sacred Economics, was quoted as saying “the best business decision should be the best ecological decision.” For more on the film, see http://inhabitfilm.com/.

May 29, 2016
by ecobeth
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Changes to Product Toxins Law Happening Now

hazardous-chemicals

Sign the Petition for a Stronger Chemicals Law

You may not have heard about it, but there are changes about to happen to the way toxic chemicals in our consumer products are regulated, and it may not be for the better.

On 5/17 a “final draft” of legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) became public and a vote is expected in Congress soon. Both chambers have been meeting since February to reconcile the Senate and House versions. The bill is an improvement over a 2013 version that was favored by the American Chemistry Council (industry). The new version improves current law in some ways but still goes backwards in a few ways, so the public health community is not supporting it.

Key Issue: State Authority or “Preemption”

The states have led the way in taking action against toxic chemicals during the many years that EPA has been hamstrung by TSCA. California is most famous for policies like Prop 65 (product warnings about cancer and birth defects). In New York, NY advocacy groups including several Long Island breast cancer groups have been pushing for a Child Safe Products Act, and fear that this law will reverse years of progress. The Child Safe Products Act is seeking to address arsenic, lead, mercury, benzene, and tris (flame retardant) in children’s products in New York. Under current law, states are allowed to restrict a chemical as they see fit unless EPA decides to impose its own restrictions.

While this new final version does allow for State actions that have been taken as of April of this year to still stand regardless of what EPA does (“grandfathering”), future state actions are the issue. Unless they apply for a waiver, States are blocked from taking action early in the process of EPA’s review of the chemical, which can take up to 4 years. If EPA declares the chemical unsafe, states are allowed to step in and impose restrictions while the EPA considers its own restrictions. When EPA finishes its own restrictions, the state preemption takes effect again. Hard to follow? True! The complication reflects the chemical industry’s influence. Recent pending state policies – particularly around toxic flame retardant chemicals – are still highly likely to be blocked by the bill. That means millions of people, and fire fighters in particular, will be exposed to these chemicals for years.

Issue: Imported Products

This version makes it very difficult compared to current law for EPA to require notification when a chemical is getting into the country in an imported product including toys, shoes, clothes, etc. EPA will look at a chemical and might decide, for example, that a chemical is ok when used as part of an industrial process, but poses too much risk when used in the home. But how will EPA know if the use patterns of the chemical change in the future?  Continue Reading →