Learn to Compost! Houston Seminar Summary

TCE Blog
Esmesha Campbell, Houston Intern

Compost-binThe July 11 Composting Seminar was a major success! Entitled “Learn to Compost! Morning Seminar,” the information session was held at an eco-friendly store/restaurant called A Movable Feast and was sponsored by Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund. There were about thirty attendees, most of whom were seasoned composters over the age of 50. The session was also headed by three keynote speakers including Jared McNabb, founder of the vermicomposting company called The Mighty Worm, John Ferguson of Nature’s Way Resources and composting enthusiast Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez of Solurso Sustainable Urban Solutions.

My role throughout the seminar was to take notes on the studies and statistics presented while also acting as a co-host alongside Texas Campaign for the Environment Program Director Melanie Scruggs. Each speaker spoke for about thirty minutes each on their designated fields of composting expertise.

Jared McNabb enlightened the audience about vermicomposting (the composting technique involving the addition of various types of worms, especially red wigglers) and his business experience in working alongside institutions, parks and hospitals while using nitrogen rich methods to restore their landscapes. His presentation also shed light on how important the recycling of food and trash waste can be to the growth of the Houston metropolitan area. Jared emphasized the significance of reusing wastes to help cultivate other forms of compost. His key takeaway points were to 1) Take what you need, 2) Compost! Compost! Compost! and 3) Return it to the earth. This young composter’s spirit was the highlight of his presentation and his unwavering willingness to answer even the most complex questions proved that he has a deep passion for composting and preserving the condition of our environment.

From left to right: Mike Eck, Melanie Scruggs, Jared McNabb, John Ferguson and Daniela Ochoa.

John Ferguson was the second speaker and his oration explored the market barriers for composters. Mr. Ferguson’s presentation touched on different perspectives and allowed attendees to take a quick glimpse into some of the regulations and policies that hinder the progress of education about the importance of composting. Some of the more controversial barriers include, but are not limited to, the lack of clarity within Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulation interpretations, bad operators and unregulated products, the lack of collection services by waste companies and the immense deficiency of education/knowledge about the general benefits of composting. Ferguson’s teachings broadened my views on composting from the public administration/environmental policy perspective. With so many lawmakers pushing against the implementation of policies that could potentially encourage the method of composting as opposed to chemical fertilizing, the possibility of introducing it as a waste alternative such as recycling would seem to be more feasible. Mr. Ferguson’s talk was filled with jaw-dropping statistics, memorable photos and well-founded opinions. It also focused attention to the true views of our state’s regulatory bodies, which have great potential to encourage the composting sector.

The final speaker was compost enthusiast Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez. Gonzalez concentrated on the need of composting training in elementary schools throughout Houston. With a presentation coined “Hope Beyond Hype for School Composting,” she also broke down the school hierarchy in which composting could be adequately received within the education system. The hierarchy starts with leadership and branches into student participation, custodians, teachers and administrative staff and, finally, parents. Gonzalez emphasized that the full hierarchy must be respected and executed in order to successfully conquer the stigma of rejecting the idea of composting in the school system. After discussing each point of the hierarchy, Gonzalez also urged the compost seminar attendees to research and support an organization called the Urban School Food Alliance. The Urban School Food Alliance uses purchasing power and the ability to negotiate with vendors to bring compostable and biodegradable materials to cafeterias and school lunches; therefore, when it is time for the “trash” to be disposed of, the waste will be more useful than harmful.

Each speaker presented valuable and important information within each of their sessions. Not only did I learn a great deal about composting, but I also internalized a few ideals of my own when it comes to the implementation of governmental policies. In my opinion, there seems to be a great deal of uncertainty and fear around composting from the policy perspective. For our lawmakers, perhaps, fear of the unknown and fear of the potential financial and environmental effects of composting may raise more than a few eyebrows. Instead of the Texas legislature and local policy makers opening their minds to a positive environmental alternative, there is a response to maintain regulations the way they know how and continue throwing food waste into landfills. With the steady increase in landfills across Houston, composting may be the best bet that ensures our city’s prosperity, preservation and well-being in the years to come.

Esmesha_CampbellINTERNEsmesha Campbell is a staff writer for Fashion Bomb Daily, MPA Candidate through Texas Southern University in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, and summer intern at Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Walgreens responds to your letters

wgprotest2TCE Blog
Robin Schneider, Executive Director

It’s good to know that the letters you send to corporate or government decision-makers – hundreds or thousands of letters for each campaign – really do make a difference. One way we know this is true: our letter-writing targets often write back! They respond to you because they are concerned what their customers and voters think about their policies.

In May 2015, thousands of TCE supporters started sending letters to Walgreens calling on the company to get tough on toxic chemicals. We sent Walgreens this organizational letter urging the company to finalize its long-promised safe chemicals policy. Walgreens started writing back to our supporters within one month! Here are excerpts of their response letter and our perspective on the key points.

“Walgreens has a long history of action involving product safety and working to ensure that our owned-brand products meet federal, state, and local safety regulations and guidelines.”

Our response:
That is all well and good except for the fact that in the U.S. and in Texas, regulations and guidelines are not adequate. If those standards were doing the job, we would not have toxic products on any store shelves. Sadly, the government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting Texans from unnecessary dangerous chemicals in consumer products. That’s why we need big retailers like Walgreens to step in and “mind the store.” Even some of Walgreens “owned-brand products” (or house brands) tested high for toxic chemicals, such as Nice! Powdered Vinyl Gloves and Pet Shoppe Tennis Ball Dog Toy.

“[W]e recognize that many of our customers are concerned about the chemical ingredients of the products they buy and bring into their homes.”

Our response:
It’s great that Walgreens is cares about their customers’ concerns. Every additional letter that our supporters write drives that point home. We hope the company will take action to get harmful chemicals out of products they sell.

“The [house brand] Ology features a variety of household and personal care products that are free of chemicals of concern.”

Our response:
It’s great that Walgreens has shown that it can work with suppliers to get rid of certain chemicals of concern. This shows that the company has the power to get toxic chemicals out of products on store shelves. We also appreciate that Walgreens lists the chemicals of concern that are not in Ology products on its website. Now they need to take the next step and broaden the list of safer products and the chemicals of concern so that all of its house branded products and brand name products are safer and free of toxic chemicals.

“We are making it our priority to continue our work with the vendor and retail community to address product ingredients and we recently initiated organizational changes that identify this as a key component of our company’s broader corporate social responsibility program. We are in the process of developing a Chemical Sustainability Program.”

wgprotestOur response:
We congratulate Walgreens for taking these first steps. Now we would like them to finish the job, and make sure their policy is as comprehensive and as protective of the health of our families and pets as possible. It should be transparent so that they can be held accountable to high standards of performance on this journey to safer products. A comprehensive approach by Walgreens should include these essential elements:

  • Disclosure of toxic chemicals (including in fragrances) in private label and brand name products to Walgreens and customers, especially for cosmetics, cleaning products, and other products for infants, children and women of childbearing age, and pet supplies;
  • Development of a comprehensive Restricted Substance List (RSL) for chemicals in private label and brand name products, especially for cosmetics, cleaning products, and other products for infants, children and women of childbearing age, and pet supplies;
  • Encouraging suppliers to reduce, phase out and eliminate chemicals of high concern in private label and brand name products;
  • Avoiding “regrettable substitutes”, to ensure that suppliers don’t transition from one dangerous chemical to another; and
  • Publicly reporting on benchmarks and a time frame for implementing their policy.

Walgreens is a company dedicated to health and wellness, and so it has a responsibility to ensure their products don’t contain toxic chemicals. In the months to come, we will be paying close attention to the chemicals policy they develop and announce. We want Walgreens to do what’s right for our families!

Environmentalists Protest Dollar Stores Toxic Inventory

fd-protest1KLBJ Newsroom

Austin environmentalists are targeting those Dollar stores you see around town and throughout the state. They protested in front of a Family Dollar store in South Austin. They say low-income families and communities of color are getting sick from toxic products bought there.

According to Texas Campaign for the Environment’s Andrew Dobbs, over 71 percent of the products from the four leading dollar store chains in Texas they had lab tested, contained at least one or more hazardous chemicals. Dobbs says the four big dollar chains, including Dollar General, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree and Just 99 Cents Stores, earn an estimated $36 billion dollars annually and will sometimes sell expired, discontinued merchandise and recalled products. Dobbs says the stores also sell products with hazardous plasticizers and hormone disrupters.

Those substances have been linked to learning disabilities, diabetes, cancer and other illnesses that disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color.

“Here at Family Dollar,” Dobbs explains, “they were selling a set of earrings. They could be marketed towards children, but they’re just low-dollar earrings with a cardboard backing. Those had 65 times the safe level of lead in them. according to independent laboratory tests.”

Dobbs claims the dollar stores could clean up their act without wrecking their bottom lines.

“There are safer alternatives to every one of these chemicals that are no more expensive than the ones they’re using today.” Dobbs goes on to say “They might have to be slightly more conscientious, but it shouldn’t cost them any more money.” He points to the actions of other retailers. “Their competitors including Wal-Mart are starting to make moves in the right direction. If Wal-Mart and Target and a variety of other retailers can do this, they can too.”


Protesters urge dollar stores to stop selling items with cancer-causing chemicals

Gianna Caserta
Original story here

Untitled-1HOUSTON – Concerned consumers held signs and chanted outside a Family Dollar on Lawndale Street Wednesday urging the store and others like it to stop selling products, they say are riddled with toxic chemicals.

“This is one of them. This is a plastic mat that you place inside of your tub so that you don’t slip, and these contain phthalates above the level of concern that people should be aware of, phthalates that are known to be hormone disrupters,” said Deyadira Trevino of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

A study released in February indicated chain dollar stores like Family Dollar, Dollar General, Dollar Tree and 99-Cents Only are selling products made of chemicals known to cause cancer, diabetes and other serious illnesses.

Protesters are upset the stores haven’t taken the products off the shelves, and customers agree.

“Find what is best for the community,” said Shaka.

The report said 81 percent of the products tested contain at least one chemical above levels of concern. It also says retailers like Walmart and Target have set standards that limit these chemicals in their products but dollar stores do not.

“We know Target and Walmart have already pulled out products that are unsafe for us, so we know that if they have done it, then 99-Cents Only and Family Dollar can do the same thing,” said Trevino.