Green your life at home, work & play

Myths vs. facts of going green – part 1 of 2 April 21, 2010

In our workshops and trainings, we have come across some misunderstandings that we wanted to take a minute to clarify. These are only a few- there are more out there, so will be posting at least one more blog about this. Feel free to comment on others you may have come across.

Myth: CFL Are Dangerous and filled with Mercury

Fact: CFLs are JUST AS SAFE as incandescent bulbs. While CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury (the size of a ball point pen tip), this is actually 4 x less* than what is produced in providing the additional electricity for an incandescent bulb over its lifetime.

If a CFL breaks, pick up the pieces with a wet paper towel, seal it in a bag, and place it in an electronic-waste collection space (along with your batteries, inkjet cartridges, CDs, cell phones and chargers).

* Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Myth: When it says it is Biodegradable, it means it is biodegradable

Fact: “Biodegradable” is a label that only means something (in the US) if it is tested in CA– if it decomposes within a year, it is considered biodegradable and can earn the California label. The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is a professional association of key individuals and groups from government, industry and academia, which promotes the use, and recycling of biodegradable polymeric materials (via composting). Together with the US Composting Council, it has developed a label for consumers to look for.

Myth: All fish is good for me and the environment.

Fact: Contaminants are commonly found in Fish and Shellfish

Where do they come from?

Industrial and municipal discharges, agricultural practices, and storm water runoff can all deposit harmful substances directly into the water.

Fish can absorb organic chemicals from the water, suspended sediments, and their food.

Specific Contaminants include:

  • Mercury: Since methylmercury binds to proteins, it is found throughout fish tissue, including muscle tissue that makes up fish steaks and fillets.
  • PCBs:  PCBs can build up in the fatty tissues of fish and other animals.  High concentrations pose serious health risks to people who frequently eat contaminated fish.

What are the risks?

  • Health problems that may result from eating contaminated fish range from small, hard-to-detect changes to birth defects and cancer.
  • More info can be found on the EDF site

Do the health benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks associated with contaminants in seafood?  Fish is generally healthy to eat, but there are some types you should eat infrequently, if at all. Consider the following:

  • For young children and women of childbearing age, consumption of mercury-contaminated fish can severely impact a child’s development.
  • Older women and men may find it an acceptable tradeoff to exceed recommended seafood meal limits to increase their omega-3 intake.
  • People at high risk of cardiovascular disease must weigh the cancer risk of eating fish high in PCBs with the benefits of eating fish high in omega-3s, in which case the benefits of omega-3s may outweigh the cancer risk (1 in 100,000 – the level recommended by the EPA). However, these chemicals are known to cause serious health problems besides cancer, so the tradeoffs are not simple.

The good news is that there are several low-contaminant, high-omega-3 seafood options available (see Eco-Best list),  so there’s no need to risk eating contaminated fish.

The global catch of wild fish leveled off over 20 years ago and 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline. Today, half of our seafood comes from farms. People are raising fish, shrimp and oysters like farmers raise cattle and chickens. But the ecological impact of fish farming depends on the species chosen, where the farm is located, and how they are raised. Learn more from the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Oceana.


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