Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Strange Bedfellows: Paper, Sugar, Diapers

Paper, Sugar and Diapers ... Strange bedfellows indeed.

That bed has a few more occupants, however: Flour, Coffee Filters, White Cotton Clothing, Tampons, Toilet Paper, Tea Bags, and Cigarette Papers (to name a few). What do all of these "bed mates" have in common? They are brilliantly white thanks to bleaching ... a process which releases dioxins into the environment.

Dioxins are environmental pollutants and have been associated with health complications such as cancer, birth defects and an increased risk of diabetes. Because dioxins are "fat loving", they bioaccumulate in both humans and wildlife. Bioaccumulate means that they are absorbed into our bodies faster than our systems can get rid of them.

Waterways are particularly susceptible to dioxin contamination as a result of bleaching practices. The toxins get into fish and plant life ... and travel right up the food chain to us. Additionally, dioxins linger on the bleached items ... this is a concern because those items come in contact with us and/or our food.

There are many ways that dioxins enter the environment ... burning coal, using products with chlorine, burning trash in a can in the backyard, plastics (think PVC) ... and bleaching consumer products. Here's an interesting fact ... most natural, raw fibers and products aren't white at all ... they are brown or off-white. But somewhere along the line we came to believe that white equals clean. So we started bleaching things ... and hurting the environment.

Once again, there is power is our purchases. Refusing to buy bleached items increases the demand for unbleached items ... and a healthier planet. Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy unbleached flour.
  • Instead of white coffee filters, go for the natural, brown variety. Or better yet, invest in a reusable filter.
  • Try raw or unrefined sugar or honey instead of white sugar.
  • For paper products, look for unbleached varieties. This includes computer paper, toilet paper, paper towels and napkins, etc.
  • Buy clothing made from natural organic cotton or, if you can find it, go for clothing made from hemp and bamboo. Both hemp and bamboo are sustainable crops and use less resources than cotton crops.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Check packaging ... anything white is a bleaching "giveaway".
As always ... I would love to hear from you!