E-waste Is a Huge Problem
Tempest in a Coffee Cup
The Planet's 1,000 Nobel Women
Cline's Wine Shines

Flotsam & Jetsam
February 25, 2006

E-waste Is a Huge Problem
By Mercede Ramjerdi / Coastal Post

What an "e-waste" is piling up around the world. Credit: The India Tribune
MARIN COUNTY, California -- E-waste is electronic waste that includes computers, printers, scanners, fax machines, televisions, phones, and many other electronic products. Fifty years ago, these products didn't exist. Today, they are considered necessities. But when these necessities become dated or worn out and are thrown away, e-waste becomes a dangerous problem for millions of people.

An area the size of the city of Los Angeles could be piled 22-stories-high with the computers thrown away in the US alone. Most Americans don't care to think about where their old computers end up, but they end up somewhere.

Someone giving an old computer to an e-waste recycling company might think that they are doing the right thing, but once recycling companies get your computer, they might just ship it away to a Third world country.

Governments in developing countries don't allow citizens to have a voice about electronic dumping. The US regularly dumps anywhere from 315 million to 600 million computers in places including India, South Africa, China, and Switzerland. This is because American businesses, schools, governments, and homes buy electronics faster then they can throw them away -- especially Marin County.

Many of these electronics can be safely recycled. Companies claim to fix and refurbish e-waste, but there is still much non-usable waste. Several companies, including Marin's Computer and Education Disposal and Golden Gate Disposal, have said they separate parts to be melted down into usable plastics and metals.

Two recycling companies said that they forward their e-waste to the Advanced Environmental Recycling Corporation. AERC claims to fix and refurbish computers if possible. However, this company shreds its non-usable materials. The available staff could not tell me what they do with those shreds.

The Community Computer Center recycles e-waste, but without much thought for the environment. A company spokesman did not seem to know or care where their share of e-waste ends up. They give unusable electronic waste to an anonymous shipping company. They export the waste to foreign counties.

Electronics in use today contain lead, mercury, cadmium, and flame retardant. These chemicals end up in soil, air, and water all over the world. In 2004, the Niger River was sampled by www.ban.org. The water contained 190 times more lead then recommended for drinking water. The likely source is the e-waste landfills that surround the river. This river also runs through local communities.

Chemicals inside electronics have already caused at least 12 different cancers, blindness, birth defects, and death. Today, despite dangers, 500 shipping containers full of e-waste enter the ports of Nigeria each month. Poor countries are accepting these dangerous items every day. The people do not have a choice.

The Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 forbids dumping of electronics on US soil. Anyone who is caught dumping these products can be fined up to $25,000 dollars. Unfortunately, this left people and businesses with few choices. The recycling companies dump where they can legally do so. www.ban.org traced a computer dumped in Africa back to a San Mateo school. It is certainly an insult to the people of other countries as well as an environmental hazard to allow such practices to continue.

Coastal Post, PO Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924. (415) 868-1600; fax: (415) 868-0502. www.coastalpost.com/06/02/04.html

Ecology House -- An Urban Retreat from Chemicals
Twenty years ago, people left bleary-eyed and listless from exposure to chemical pollutants were dismissed as hypochondriacs. When doctors finally acknowledged the existence of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), the preferred cure was a safe-house in the high desert. These days, people are learning how to create "clean homes" a bit closer to their established lives and families.

San Rafael's Ecology House offers a pioneering example of how to turn a bungalow or an apartment house into a safe haven in a sea of urban pollution. Ecology House, a HUD-financed building with 11 units for low-income residents, offers the only clean-and-green accommodations in Marin County.

Affordable housing is critical for individuals "who've spent much of their personal savings trying to cope with MCS," says Connie Barker, the VP of the Environmental Health Network of California. Barker, who suffered from MCS symptoms for more than ten years, is now a resident at Ecology House. There are 50-60 on waiting list, Barker says. "This is down from a high of 120 as people discovered there's almost no turnover."

A long list of items banned from the building's shared air-space includes: perfumes, plastics, vinyl, formaldehyde, shoe polish, chewing gum, herbal lotions, essential oils, rubber, latex, cardboard boxes, incense and candles (if there's a blackout, grab a flashlight). And no pets, either, since Fido's dander can be "life-threatening" for some MCS sufferers. Visitors who show up in clothes reeking of alcohol, cologne or dry-cleaning solvents are required to de-tox in the Ecology House "airing room."

Barker notes that Green Building standards for indoor environmental quality (IEQ) need improvement to include nontoxic fixtures, flooring, and fabrics and improved circulation of clean, filtered air. She praises the Healthy Building Network for going "several steps beyond what the Green Building movement is doing." Their mantra is: "If it isn't healthy, it isn't green." In this case, "healthy" means "healthy for the most sensitive among us."

The Universal Design Code is a building standard promoted by the disabled community to "provide access to the maximum number of people." Including IEQ as a basic requirement for Universal Design makes sense, Barker says, since the chemical fumes pose "a serious barrier for anyone affected with breathing difficulties."

Despite lobbying by the MCS community, California's recently enacted Universal Design Code failed to include IEQ standards. Barker is hopeful that SF and Marin will incorporate these standards into local building codes.

Despite the strong demand for Clean Buildings, so far, the "Genius of the Marketplace" seems to have more in common with the Village Idiot. Where should pressure be placed -- local, state or federal? "Pressure is needed at all levels," Barker states, "but the best hope for change exists at the local level."
-- Gar Smith
For more information, contact: Connie Barker at (415) 385-9907, Cjbarker@lmi.net or Consultclarity.com/eh

Tempest in a Coffee Cup
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Big Easy, America's media lens understandable focused on the plight of the southern states. What the media missed, during those tumultuous days, was another environmental tragedy that was devastating the lives of tens of thousands of people in Mexico and Guatemala.

In October, Hurricane Stan raked the region with winds that toppled trees and torrential floods that washed away roads, homes, hillsides, and crops. The hurricane arrived at the worst time for the regions' small-scale coffee growers who were just about to harvest their coffee beans.

Ordinarily, such a loss would mean instant poverty. But for the fortunate farmers linked to the US-based Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers, there was an immediate response: this alliance of good-hearted Yankee Java barons raised $182,000 for a Coffee Relief Fund.

"Our role as a coffee importer is to find ways to help our supply partners," says David Griswold, president and founder of the Portland-based group which includes Peet's, Whole Foods, Newman's Own Organics, Allegro and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Quicker than you can say "Gimme a double-decaf-vanilla-soy-cappucino," these companies went to work, brewing up a storm-relief package to provide food, shelter and medicine, The quick response helped clear blocked roads, repair damaged buildings and even saved a "significant portion" of the storm-damaged coffee harvest.

Sustainable Harvest is North America's main pipeline for organic, fair-trade coffee, shipping more than 8 million pounds of eco-beans from small co-op farms in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Part of Sustainable Harvest's unique business model is its "Relationship Coffee" program, which puts roasters in direct contact with the actual farmers, forming personal bonds and providing a host of support services ranging from business training to pre-harvest crop financing. One company, Green Mountain, came up with a $80,000 in relief funds. Rick Peyser, Green Mountain's Director of Social Advocacy credits the fund with "helping the producers rapidly regain what they may have lost."

Thanks to the Relationship Coffee system, Griswold says, "every dollar raised has gone directly to relief and rebuilding efforts." That's something to remember, the next time you go shopping for your morning buzz.

-- Gar Smith

For more information, contact: Sustainableharvest.comm

The International Project Team for the 1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 Credit: Photo by Barbara Marigold
The Planet's 1,000 Nobel Women
With all the hullabaloo over the presentation of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize (congratulations, Mohammed El-Baradei!), here’s a local story that was overlooked. For the first time, the nominees for the prestigious prize included the names of 1,000 women -- 40 from the US and 14 from the San Francisco Bay Area.

The idea for the group nomination began in March 2003 after Swiss Parliament Member Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold visited refugee camps in Bosnia and Chechnya. “Everywhere I met courageous and resolute women who perform reconstruction and peace work in extremely dangerous circumstances,” she recalled. “Yet their work leaves scarcely any trace. I wanted to render visible the work of these women.” (Since the first Peace Prize was announced in 1901, all but 12 of the winners have been men.)

Vermot-Mangold organized a $3.8 million project to identify “1,000 exemplary women to collectively receive the Nobel Peace Prize” on behalf of the “millions of nameless women all over the world who work for justice, education, political rights and security.”

The worldwide search, which collected candidates from more than 150 countries, took more than a year. According to US Coordinator Margo Okazawa-Rey, “We tried very hard to get candidates from most regions of the U.S., but none were as active as in the Bay Area.”

Our local Nobel nominees included: US Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Singer/songwriter Holly Near, feminist pioneer Aileen C. Hernandez, Code Pink Founder Medea Benjamin, Global Fund for Women Founder Anne Firth Murray, civil rights activist Elizabeth “Bettita” Martinez, health activist Roma Pauline Guy, peace activist Marta Drury, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children Founder Ellen Barry, Jerusalem Link Founder Terry Greenblatt, civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, fair-trade activist Candi Smucker, Linda Burnham of the Women of Color Resource Center, and Jane Roberts of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund. -- Gar Smith

A book, 1000 Women for Peace, profiles each of the nominees. For more information: 1000peacewomen.org

Cline’s Wine Shines
Everybody knows that growing grapes takes lots of sunshine. Taking a hint from the eco-grapevine, Sonoma County’s Cline Cellars recently capped 34,626 square feet of its winery roof with 2,000 Sharp photovoltaic panels. The new roof will churn out 411 kW -- enough juice to power 100% of the company’s electric needs.

“This has been a win-win-win project from the beginning,” says Cline’s Director of Operations Peggy Phelan. In addition to “flat-lining” the winery’s operating costs, Phelan reports that the solar panels are “improving air quality by reducing 690,000 pounds of noxious greenhouse gases per year.”

SolarCraft Services, the Marin County Certified Green Business contracted to design and install the solar-power system, also added a foam-insulated roof that reduces summer cooling costs by nearly a third. The panels come with a 25-year warranty and boast an expected design life of 40-plus years. While state subsidies for renewable energy systems have been reduced, the rising cost of fossil fuel still makes the transition to solar a financial no-brainer.

SolarCraft owners Bill Stewart and Dennis Nuttman also have reason to beam, as well. In the past 20 years, their company has installed more than 3,800 solar energy systems in northern California, saving clients $6.5 million in utility bills and eliminating 24,000 tons of climate-warming gasses.

Next time you’re in the Carneros District, drop by Sonoma’s Solar Cellars. You can toast their solar success story with a glass of Zinfandel in a 150-year-old farmhouse, or enjoy a sip of Rhone wine alongside one of six spring-fed ponds. There’s also a California Missions Museum and a Solar Kiosk for the kids to explore. The winery is located 45 minutes north of SF at 24737 Highway 121. Visiting hours and tastings are held daily from 10am to 6pm. Clinecellars.com

-- Gar Smith

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