Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas won't be blue if you go green

With the Christmas countdown down to a scant few days, you must be done with your Christmas shopping. Or are you down with a fever (for ’tis the season for colds and flu)? While some are already panic shopping, I can only panic as shopping is not really on my to-do list these days, what with so many deadlines to beat at work. But there are people (like me) who thrive on the 11th hour.

With toys selling like proverbial hotcakes, the EcoWaste Coalition, an environment watchdog, has appealed for government assurance on toy quality and safety, even as shopping malls and vendors in Divisoria are enjoying brisk sales.

“The government is responsible for recalling toys that have not passed quality and safety standards, including product labeling requirements,” says Roy Alvarez, EcoWaste Coalition president. “Toys that pose choking, laceration, poking, strangulation, burning and chemical poisoning threats to young children should be withdrawn from store shelves without delay.”

He adds, “We want to see the authorities ordering product recalls as a precaution against children’s potential exposure to physical, mechanical and chemical hazards in toys.”

The group reveals that in the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled 50 kinds of toys in 2009 and 44 kinds just this year.

Alvarez points out, “Government authorities in Europe and the US issue toy recall orders from time to time to rid the market of dangerous toys. Our own government should do the same in order to save our children from harm. At the same time, it should also ensure that recalled toys from abroad do not get dumped into the country’s ports and markets.”

Also, all ye consumers, you’d better watch out for those giant puzzle mats (or carpets) made of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam that contains formamide. These were recently banned by the Belgian and French governments. Formamide is a reproductive toxicant, a chemical that is classified as toxic to the reproductive system, posing harm to fetuses and infants.

“This latest toxic scare in Belgium and France involving formamide-laced foam puzzle mats or carpets, which are also quite popular in the Philippines, should be enough incentive to move the authorities into withdrawing the product from the local market,” says Thony Dizon, coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats).

Last Friday, the Belgian Minister for Consumer Protection Paul Magnette ordered the withdrawal of foam puzzle tapestries, which were found to contain high levels of formamide.

Following the Belgian action, French Secretary of Consumer Affairs Frederic Lefebvre ordered the Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and Fraud to “proceed without delay to control the toxicity of carpet puzzles for children and (their) sale on the French market.”

So, what’s on top of people’s Christmas lists?

Richard Gutierrez (not the actor), executive director of Ban Toxics, says that a quick check at Amazon.com shows that seven out of the top 10 to-die-for gifts for Christmas are electronic gadgets. But before dashing to the store to buy a shiny new MP3 player for yourself or the latest gaming console for your kids, stop and take a few minutes to learn a little more about responsible gift-giving this Christmas season. He promises you may not have a white Christmas this year, but it certainly won’t be blue if you go green.

Fact is, Ban Toxics , the EcoWaste Coalition, and Greenpeace Southeast Asia have banded together (the more, the merrier) to come up with the Greener Gadgets Gift Guide for consumers.

Richard explains, “E-waste is an urgent topic of concern, especially for countries such as the Philippines, where discarded electronics from countries such as Japan and South Korea are exported as secondhand goods. These e-wastes contain toxic substances which may be released through improper use and recycling. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we don’t add to the growing mountain amount of e-waste in the country by buying gadgets which may potentially harm both human health and the environment.”

Hark! Here are the disturbing facts: E-waste contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals that’s added to various parts of electronics. Phthalates, brominated flame retardants (BFR), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are often added to gadgets’ plastic housing and electrical wiring. Aside from possibly damaging the liver, lungs, and kidney, phthalates are also suspected to cause infertility in males. On the other hand, both BFR and PVC are cancer-causing substances. In addition, poisonous metals like mercury and lead, both of which damage the nervous system and cause developmental disorders, are found in some television and computer screens.

Think green this Christmas. Here are the Greener Gadgets Gift Guide tips to guide you as you comb the store shelves and check your list twice:

• Know your brands. Get to know which companies produce safe and environmentally sustainable electronic gadgets. Greenpeace recently updated its Guide to Greener Electronics, which ranks the top electronics manufacturers according to their policies on toxics, recycling, and climate change. The guide is available at the Greenpeace website.

• Know what harmful toxic materials are commonly used in electronic gadgets. Avoid products that have these, or purchase the item with the least amount. A product marked “RoHS-compliant” means that it complies with the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive. In other words, they do not contain mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated biphenyl ethers, common toxins found in electronic gadgets.

• Buy energy-efficient electronic products. Look for the Energy Star or the energy efficiency ratio (EER) — the higher the number, the more efficient your electronic device. An air conditioner with an EER of 15 cools more efficiently and inexpensively than one with an EER of 11.

• Look for brands with good warranty and take-back policies. Chances are, the better the warranty policy, the higher the product quality.

For example, an inkjet printer with a one-year warranty is likely to be more durable and long-lasting than one with a three-month warranty.

Also, getting a brand with a take-back policy helps ensure that your DVD player, laptop, or mobile phone will be recycled instead of dumped into landfills.

• Go for quality, not quantity. Avoid buying very cheap items in bulk. Most of these items will wear out after a few months.

Did you know that the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT found that six out of seven cheap toys from bargain centers contain toxic plastic? Cheap may save you money but not tears in the end. Buying a product with good quality is a much better investment, and better for the environment, too.

• Look for electronics with rechargeable rather than disposable batteries. Rechargeables may be more expensive initially, but they can be recharged and used many times, eliminating the need to purchase and throw away disposable batteries constantly.

• Think of alternatives to giving electronics to your loved ones. A personalized, handmade present can mean just as much, if not more, than a store-bought gadget. But if you absolutely must buy an electronic gadget for a gift, make sure it’s worth your money by following tips 1-6.

Don’t forget to keep a mental list of this guide as you do your last-minute do-or-die shopping. By doing so, you’re sending a message to manufacturers, reminding them of their responsibility to consumers.

“Manufacturers have the responsibility to eliminate toxins in their products, and our government should create regulations to ensure that this behavior is adopted,” stresses Beau Baconguis, toxics campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“The spirit of Christmas is not about things that are new, but things that have meaning,” notes Rei Panaligan, coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition. “It’s the thought that counts — and in buying electronic gifts, a little thinking goes a long, long way in protecting our loved ones’ health, and preventing more toxic e-waste from piling up in our already ailing environment.”

So, have yourself a merry little green Christmas!


Post a Comment