Is it true that there is a lot of waste associated with tampons and sanitary pads and their packaging? Are there any environmentally friendly alternatives out there?

— C. Howard, Victoria, BC

Women of ancient cultures couldn’t buy feminine hygiene products at the supermarket or drugstore chain, so they improvised, fashioning them instead out of various natural and biodegradable materials — from papyrus and wool to grasses and vegetable fibers. Modern women, however, have relied on a variety of disposable products that create significant after-use waste and can also be dangerous to their health.

A typical American woman will use — and discard — as many as 16,000 tampons and their applicators over the course of her lifetime. The numbers for disposable sanitary pads run about twice as high. A 1998 study conducted by waste consultant Franklin Associates concluded that 6.5 billion tampons and 13.5 billion sanitary pads, plus their packaging, were ending up in U.S. landfills or sewer systems each year. Meanwhile, volunteers from the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy collected more than 170,000 tampon applicators along American coastlines during a study conducted over a two-year period in 1998 and 1999.

On the health front, the sterile look of feminine hygiene products does not betray the fact that the chlorine dioxide used to whiten them can “theoretically generate dioxins at extremely low levels,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although the chlorine bleaching of tampons and pads has become considerably safer since the early 1990s, prior to which the process released some 250 different organochlorines into the environment and delivered a product laden with dioxin, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says no safe level for dioxin exposure exists.

Dioxin is 10 times more likely to cause cancer than was believed in 1994, says the EPA, and a lifetime of exposure to tampons, in particular, can mean a significant accumulation of toxins in a woman’s body and many noncancer effects, including birth defects and child developmental delays. Additionally, tampons, because they interrupt the natural flow of blood, can facilitate bacteria growth and cause infection.

To address both the health and environmental issues associated with feminine products, a number of innovative companies offer alternatives. Gladrags, Natracare, Lunapads, Many Moons and Pandora Pads all make a wide range of cotton pads and other re-usable products free of toxic substances. And Jade and Pearl shapes natural sea sponges to fit a woman’s body, absorbing flow and likewise steering customers away from throwaway products made of bleached synthetic fibers.

Meanwhile, “The Keeper” is a reusable rubber cup designed to catch menstrual flow; its maker also sells a silicone version called the “Moon Cup” for those with sensitivities to rubber. Such products can last for up to 10 years before needing replacement and are approved by the U.S. FDA and Health Canada. Many of these healthier and environmentally friendly (and less costly) alternative products are available online as well as on the shelves of natural foods markets across North America.

CONTACTS: GladRags, glad rags.com; Natracare, natracare.com; Lunapads, lunapads.com; Many Moons Alternatives, manymoonsalternatives. com; Pandora Pads, pandorapads.com; The Keeper, keeper.com; Jade and Pearl, jadeand pearl.com.


I’m moving in eight weeks and am trying to find some “green guidance” for making my relocation as eco-friendly as possible. Any tips?

— Holly, Elizabethtown, PA

Moving may be inherently unfriendly to the environment given that carting stuff around means expending lots of fuel and emitting a lot of pollutants, but there are ways to “relocate responsibly.” For starters, the less stuff we accumulate in the first place the less we have to pick up and move elsewhere — so fighting the pack-rat urge and minimizing trips to shopping malls in the first place are good prerequisites.

CONTACTS: Rent-a-Crate, www.rentacrate.com, 800-427-2832; Earth Friendly Moving, www.earthfriendly moving.com/recopack.php; Green Clean, www.greencleanUSA.org; Care2 Green Moving Guide, www.care2.com/greenliving/green-moving-guide.html.

Beyond what may already be too late to undo, though, one can lessen their environmental footprint when moving by first giving away or selling any nonessential items. Neighborhood yard sales and giveaways are one way to go, while Web sites like ebay, Craigslist and Freecycle provide virtual ways to unload unwanted stuff. Books can be donated to local libraries, and most schools will be happy to make use of old computers. And Goodwill and other charities will gladly take old clothes for resale in thrift outlets.

While all that’s going on, the environmentally conscious mover would also want to be hoarding bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, padded envelopes and other packing materials instead of going out and buying them new. Many liquor, grocery, hardware and other retail stores are happy to give away large cardboard boxes they no longer need and would have to otherwise discard or recycle. Calling around first will save the headache and the emissions of driving around to individual stores one-by-one to ask them.

As to the move itself, if you’re fortunate enough to be relocating within Orange County or Los Angeles one green option is to rent “RecoPack” moving boxes from Earth Friendly Moving. The company, which has plans to expand nationwide over the next five years, provides five different stackable sizes of durable moving cartons made from recycled plastic bottles. The rental cost is just $1 per box per week — and the company’s biodiesel-powered trucks will drop off and pick up the boxes before and after the move.

Not in Southern California? Rent-a-Crate, which has 13 U.S. locations coast to coast, also rents reusable (though not recycled) plastic moving crates that they’ll deliver to and pick up from any location. The company works extensively in the office relocation business, too, and rents other reusable accessories such as dollies for rolling heavy crates and crates for delicate items like computers and even medical x-ray films.

And remember, there is more to moving green than just moving. Use only eco-friendly cleaning products when scrubbing down the old place. If you live in the Washington, D.C., or Baltimore area, a crew from Green Clean will send a professional crew that uses only nontoxic, biodegradable cleaners. Otherwise, health food stores all carry green cleaners that you can use yourself or instruct the hired help to use.

A tip from the Care2 “Green Moving Guide”: File a temporary change of address with your post office rather than a permanent one to cut down on junk mail at the new place. The U.S. Postal Service sells lists of permanent address changes to direct marketers, but doesn’t bother doing so with temporary addresses.


Why do some people complain about fluoride in drinking water and toothpaste? I thought it was beneficial for dental health?

— Becky Johnston, Shoreline, WA

Communities began adding fluoride to water supplies in the early 1940s after decades of studies into why some Colorado residents were exhibiting a discoloration or “mottling” of the teeth but at the same time very low rates of actual decay. The culprit turned out to be high concentrations of a naturally occurring fluoride that was running off into the water from Pike’s Peak after rainfalls. Research later concluded that adding small, controlled amounts of fluoride into public water supplies would act as a form of community-wide cavity prevention without causing the undesirable mottling known at the time as “Colorado stain.”

Today, supporters of fluoridation cite research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control showing the very inexpensive fluoridation of drinking water has since correlated to significant reductions in incidences of tooth decay (15 to 40 percent) in communities across the country. But skeptics worry we may be getting too much of a good thing. While small amounts of fluoride will prevent tooth decay, excessive amounts can lead not only to irreversible tooth discoloration (today called “fluorosis”), but also to other health issues, including an increased risk of bone breakage and osteoporosis.

The problem, says Fluoride Action Network (FAN), which is opposed to fluoridation, is the very water supplies that are treated for dental purposes are also used in the making of many common food products — from baby formula and cereal to juices, sodas, wines, beers and even fresh produce. And with most toothpastes also adding fluoride, many people are ingesting far more fluoride than they should.

The main concern for most people is the discoloration of children’s second teeth once the baby teeth are gone. Besides being embarrassing, there is no cure. And some doctors worry that excessive fluoride may actually be promoting tooth decay rather than preventing it — and harming kids in other ways, particularly as they get older. FAN cites studies showing how low-to-moderate doses of fluoride can lead to eczema, reduced thyroid activity, hyperactivity, IQ deficits, premature puberty and even bone cancer.

On the other side of the debate, concerns have risen that our increased reliance on nonfluoridated bottled water instead of tap water may be leading to increases in tooth decay (some bottled waters have added fluoride). However, speaking in a May 2002 UPI Science News article, John W. Stamm, dean of the School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, said, “It’s very important to realize that there are many sources for body fluids … The fact that one may be consuming variable amounts of bottled water seems to me to be insufficient reason to be concerned about a fluoride-deficient diet.”

Avoiding fluoride is difficult for those whose local water is fluoridated. And the only filters that can strain fluoride out of water are expensive ones that employ reverse osmosis, activated alumina or distillation. Switching to unfluoridated toothpaste — many varieties are available from natural health retailers — is one way to cut down on fluoride intake, especially for those who swallow toothpaste when they are brushing.


What is the population status of Africa’s large mammals, such as elephants, lions, rhinos and hippos? Are they all headed for extinction?

— Elias Corey, Seattle, WA

Overall, the variety and abundance of wildlife in Africa, as elsewhere around the world, is shrinking fast as the human population grows and encroaches ever more on once wild and pristine landscapes. While illegal hunting (known in Africa as “poaching”) still runs rampant despite government crackdowns, the spread of logging and agriculture contributes even more to the decline of many species of large mammals.

CONTACTS: African Wildlife Foundation, www.awf.org; Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), www.cites.org

The population of the continent’s biggest mammal, the African elephant, has declined by more than 90 percent since the 1930s, when as many as 10 million of the great creatures roamed free there. At last count, biologists estimated that only about 600,000 elephants are left in all of Africa.

Elephant populations are thriving in areas of southern Africa, thanks to massive government conservation efforts, including a ban on the ivory trade as part of the 144-nation strong Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which limits trade in wild animals and their parts and accords varying degrees of protection to more than 33,000 species of plants and wildlife.

Africa’s hippopotamus population is also suffering, partly because of the very ban on ivory. Bullied out of the ivory trade, many African poachers have turned to hippo teeth, which measure as long as 24 inches and have become a valuable substitute for ivory. A 2003 census of the hippos of Virunga National Park in the African Republic of Congo, for example, found only 1,300 animals, down from an estimated 29,000 in a previous count three decades earlier. In neighboring Burundi, another recent census found that two-thirds of that country’s hippo population — some 200 animals — had disappeared in just a five-year period.

As for rhinos, only 10,000 individuals exist around the world, down 85 percent since just 1970. Poaching has been the main culprit in the decimation of these animals, with a single pair of black rhino horns — coveted by Arabs in oil-rich Yemen who collect them as symbols of wealth and status — fetching as much as $50,000 on the black market. Of the two rhino species in Africa, the white rhino is faring slightly better and has rebounded from near extinction but isn’t quite in the clear yet. The black rhino, down to only about 2,500 animals, is still considered critically endangered, however. Where it once roamed across the entire African continent, the black rhino is barely hanging on in just a few East African countries.

Lions may be faring a little better, but not much. The nonprofit African Wildlife Foundation reports that the continent’s lion population has fallen off by half since the early 1950s when an estimated 40,000 “kings of the jungle” ruled. Besides contending with habitat loss to ever expanding human settlement, Africa’s lions have also had to deal with hunting and poisoning by livestock ranchers.

Although limited conservation efforts within Africa and internationally are helping some of these species remain barely viable, fighting extinction is an uphill battle, especially when expanding human population and sputtering economies force people to occupy previously wild lands and generate income by any means necessary. Individuals can help by donating money and time to organizations committed to saving these magnificent animals. With the extinction clock ticking fast, there’s no time to waste.








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