Holiday Tips from the EPA

 holiday

 

The US Environmental Protection Agency shares the following message for reducing waste through reuse and recycling during the holiday season.

  • After the holidays, look for ways to recycle your tree instead of sending it to a landfill. Check with your community solid waste department and find out if they collect and mulch trees. Your town might be able to use chippings from mulched trees for hiking trails or beachfront erosion barriers.
  • Buy a potted tree and plant it after the holidays.
  • Have a create your own decorations party! Invite family and friends to create holiday decorations such as ornaments made from old greeting cards or cookie dough, garlands made from strung popcorn or cranberries, wreaths made from artificial greens and flowers, and potpourri made from kitchen spices such as cinnamon and cloves.
  • Turn off or unplug holiday lights during the day. Doing so will not only save energy, but will also help your lights last longer.
  • If you’re buying new greeting cards this holiday season, send recycled-content greeting cards. Buying recycled encourages manufacturers to make more recycled-content products available. Also consider sending electronic cards, and remember to recycle any paper cards you receive.
  • Think “green” while shopping holiday and birthday sales. Try to buy items with minimal packaging and/or made with recycled content. Check product labels to determine an item’s recyclability and whether it is made from recycled materials.
  • Consider the durability of a product before you buy it as a gift. Cheaper, less durable items often wear out quickly, creating waste and costing you money. Look for items that embody the concept of reuse. For example: wooden toys made from scrap wood, craft kits that take advantage of used goods and discards, and drawing boards that can be erased and reused.

  • Thousands of paper and plastic shopping bags end up in landfills every year. Reduce the number of bags thrown out by bringing reusable cloth bags for holiday gift shopping. Tell store clerks you don’t need a bag for small or oversized purchases. Use reusable cloth bags instead of disposable ones for trick-or-treating.
  • Wrap gifts in recycled or reused wrapping paper or funny papers. Also remember to save or recycle used wrapping paper. Give gifts that don’t require much packaging, such as concert tickets or gift certificates.
  • Donate the older toys that your children no longer use to charities. Also check with local libraries. A number of public libraries have extended their children’s section to include a lending collection of toys, games, puzzles, and musical instruments.
  • Many battery sales occur during the holiday season. Buy rechargeable batteries to accompany your electronic gifts, and consider giving a battery charger as well. Rechargeable batteries reduce the amount of potentially harmful materials thrown away, and can save money in the long run.
  • When giving flowers as gifts, consider buying long-lasting silk flowers, potted plants, or live bushes, shrubs, or trees that can be planted in the spring as gifts.
  • Bake cookies or other goodies for your friends and love ones and package them in reusable and/or recyclable containers as gifts. Homemade goodies show how much you care and help you avoid packaging waste.
  • If you host a party, set the table with cloth napkins and reusable dishes, glasses, and silverware. Consider renting more formal tableware that you might not use very often. Also save and reuse party hats, decorations, and favors.
  • After holiday festivities, put leftovers in recyclable containers, and share them with family, friends, or others. Donate whole, untouched leftovers from parties to a local food bank or homeless shelter.

  • Where possible, compost leftover food scraps, leaves, and grass clippings.
  • After parties, fill your dishwasher to capacity before running it. You will run fewer cycles, which saves energy.
  • Wash and reuse empty glass and plastic jars, milk jugs, coffee cans, dairy tubs, and other similar containers that would otherwise get thrown away. These containers can be used to store leftovers as well as buttons, nails, or other loose items.
  • Make the most of your jack o’ lantern. Use the removed meat to make pumpkin pie or muffins and roast the seeds as a fun holiday snack. When the holiday is over, cut up your carved pumpkin before it spoils and toss it in the compost bin.
  • Why purchase costumes that you will probably only use once and then throw away? Instead, use old clothes or buy used clothes from a consignment shop to make your costume.
  • Consider donating old costumes to local amateur theater productions, including school performances and shows put on by charitable organizations. Another option is to donate costumes to a costume rental service.

Laundry Pods…A Convenience, Yet a Danger for Young Children

pods

In a recent nightly news report, Brian Williams spoke about the serious danger in using the colorful, candy like, laundry detergent pods if you have young children in your home. He cited a recent new study in the journal Pediatrics that stated these detergent pods can pose a serious poisoning risk to young children.

He went on to say that just about once an hour a child is reported to have ingested one of these colorful pods that are small enough to fit into a young child’s mouth.

Dr. Cindy Haines of HealthDay TV, also reported on this serious threat in MedlinePlus. She shared that study researchers analyzed records from the National Poison Data System and found that more than 17,000 children under the age of six were exposed to laundry detergent pods from 2012 through 2013. Nearly 80 percent were exposed through ingestion, most of them one and two years of age.

Half of the children, who put the pods in their mouths, were treated at home, about a third were treated at a health care facility and released, and around 4 percent were hospitalized. While most of the young patients experienced minor injuries, more than 7 percent suffered a moderate to major medical outcome. One child died.

The researchers say since the pods have a colorful, candy-like appearance that they may attract children, especially during developmental periods when children commonly place items in their mouths. They are asking pediatricians and other health care providers to educate parents and other caregivers about the dangers of these products, as well as the importance of safe storage and careful use.They strongly recommend that households with young children use traditional laundry detergent. The study authors also say a national safety standard is needed to improve product packaging and labeling.

Brian Williams concluded his report by sharing that, as a result of this study and the attention it is getting, the manufacturers of the laundry pods are working on an education campaign to promote the safe storage of laundry pods and their use in homes with young children.

 

Writing: Storytelling on a Page

storytelling

Storytelling is a key building block for developing writing skills in young children.


The common cry a parent is sure to hear from their child at one time or another is, “I have to write about what I did over the summer and I don’t know what to say. I hate writing! I can’t write.”! Translation…I am not comfortable writing.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t prepare our children to write the way we prepare them to know the alphabet, to count and to develop other learning skills during their preschool and kindergarten years. Yet, writing is a skill that most of us will need and use for the rest of our lives. Being comfortable writing and writing well is critical to our academic and employment success.

I am not talking about grammar, punctuation or understanding sentence structure. These skills will be taught in school. I refer to the ability to describe something on paper that was seen, heard, read or told about.

It’s about storytelling.

Not just the stories you read to your child from a book but the storytelling that comes from sharing family history or events or making up stories about everyday activities as you spend time with your child. While being read to captures a child’s interest, expands his/her knowledge and fosters creative thinking, which are all building blocks of writing skills, the ability to tell and write a story must be practiced like any other skill.

Most of my life I’ve earned an income from writing…a biography, articles, technical writing, reports, recipes, programs for children, grants,web content and blogging. I owe my comfort and enjoyment of writing to my extended family. By the time I was two years old, my godmother and grandparents were telling me stories and helping me to tell stories about the things I saw when out walking or visiting with them. Even before I could write, they encouraged me to tell them stories and they wrote them down for me. Then the stories were scotch taped to their refrigerator for all to read. I couldn’t wait until I had the skills to write my own stories. It was all the motivation I needed to learn the alphabet and begin writing.

There is no more undivided attention a child can have than time spent with an adult or older sibling exploring something new, talking about it, making up a story about it. It can be as simple as a trip to the supermarket, a walk in the park, helping to wash the family car or assisting in preparing a meal.

As important as talking about what you see or hear or are doing is guiding your child through making up a story about what he or she is seeing or doing. At first, you will need to ask your child questions to trigger storytelling. After awhile that won’t be necessary.

Storytelling is a family affair and one that offers a role for grandparents and other relatives. Photo albums, attics full of stuff, and scrapbooks are just some of the things that can spark stories. Recording the story is a critical part of the process. Being able to look at and refer to his or her story, in writing, builds a child’s confidence and establishes a comfort level about writing.

If a child can view writing as storytelling on a page, be it paper or computer, he or she is on track for enjoying and not dreading writing.

The FDA Ensures Foods from Animals Are Safe

animals

In case you were wondering, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants you to know that it ensures foods from animals are safe.

If you eat meat or drink milk, you want to know: Are there trace amounts of the veterinary drugs used in food-producing animals entering your diet? And if they are, are the amounts safe for human consumption?

Those questions—among others—are the concern of the Division of Residue Chemistry, which is part of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Sick food-producing animals such as pigs, cows, and chickens can be given antibiotics or other drugs to treat diseases. (Some farms also give animals antibiotics to help them grow faster, a practice FDA is working to eliminate by promoting the judicious use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals.) Producers must then wait for the drug to leave the animal’s system before they can slaughter it for consumption. It’s important to ensure that any remaining trace amounts of the drugs are safe to eat by the time the food reaches our plates.

“Our job is twofold,” says Division Director Philip Kijak, Ph.D. “We validate the methods drug companies use to test for drug trace amounts in foods from animals, and we help develop newer and better methods for testing.”

On the first point, the sponsor—usually, the animal pharmaceuticals company—of a drug to be used in a food animal must complete required testing that establishes the drug’s tolerance (a measure of safety), and develop a method to show whether the trace amount in the animal food product is within that tolerance.

“Then we are responsible for validating that method—making sure not only that it works and is accurate, but that it’s a practical method any standard chemical laboratory can use,” Kijak says.

Making Sure Milk Is Safe

For example, the Division examines the methods used to test milk for trace amounts of veterinary drugs used in dairy cows.

Under the Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance standards issued by the FDA and the U.S. Public Health Service, all milk must be tested for beta-lactam antibiotics, the most common drugs used by dairy farms. FDA’s role is to evaluate Animalsand approve the data and methods submitted by companies that manufacture rapid-screening tests for these drugs. Rapid screening is important because milk is perishable, and results are needed on the spot.

“Think of these as off-the-shelf kits, like those consumers buy for pregnancy testing,” Kijak says. It’s up to the individual dairies and state regulators to choose the approved kits they want to use. Since 1994, when FDA began evaluating test-kits, the amount of milk containing beta-lactam drugs has dropped from 0.15 percent to 0.014 percent—more than a tenfold decrease, Kijak adds.

Developing Methods to Test Meat

In addition, FDA works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA’s FSIS) and state regulators to monitor meat, poultry, eggs, and milk for trace amounts of unapproved or unsafe drugs. FSIS tests the foods for a variety of these medications and reports violations to FDA, which follows up with regulatory action when needed.

“To do this job, we had to focus on developing new methods to detect trace amounts of penicillin and other antibiotics,” Kijak says. “With the older method, we were able to tell if penicillin or penicillin and other drugs were present, but we were unable to measure the exact amount of the penicillin when the sample contained more than one drug.” Without this specific information, it was possible for products with unsafe amounts of penicillin to pass inspection. The newer method, which was developed in close cooperation with USDA, enables inspectors to determine if multiple drugs are present, and the amount of each.

Testing for Fungus in Animal Feeds

Recently, the division has become increasingly involved in developing methods to detect mycotoxins and other contaminants in animal feeds. Mycotoxins are toxic compounds made by fungi that grow on grains. Poor growing methods and improper storage conditions can promote the development of these compounds, which that can enter our diets in meat from animals that consumed the contaminated feed.

“While these fungi are almost always present in grain, it’s the amount of mycotoxins that can make the difference between safe and unsafe foods from animals,” Kijak explains. “The new methods enable us to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure the tested products are safe for consumers.”

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

November 3, 2014

The Online Collection of Personal Information of Kids Under 13

information

OnGuardOnline.gov wants you to know that as a parent, you have control over the personal information companies collect online from your kids under 13.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act gives you tools to do that. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the COPPA Rule. If a site or service is covered by COPPA, it has to get your consent before collecting personal information from your child and it has to honor your choices about how that information is used.

What is COPPA?  

The COPPA Rule was put in place to protect kids’ personal information on websites and online services — including apps — that are directed to children under 13. The Rule also applies to a general audience site that knows it’s collecting personal information from kids that age.

COPPA requires those sites and services to notify parents directly and get their approval before they collect, use, or disclose a child’s personal information. Personal information in the world of COPPA includes a kid’s name, address, phone number or email address; their physical whereabouts; photos, videos and audio recordings of the child, and persistent identifiers, like IP addresses, that can be used to track a child’s activities over time and across different websites and online services.

Does COPPA affect the sites and services my kids use?

If the site or service doesn’t collect your child’s personal information, COPPA is not a factor. COPPA kicks in only when sites covered by the Rule collect certain personal information from your kids. Practically speaking, COPPA puts you in charge of your child’s personal information.

How does COPPA work?

COPPA works like this: Let’s say your child wants to use features on a site or download an app that collects their personal information. Before they can, you should get a plain language notice about what information the site will collect, how it will use it, and how you can provide your consent. For example, you may get an email from a company letting you know your child has started the process for signing up for a site or service that requires your child to give personal information. Or you may get that notice on the screen where you can consent to the collection of your child’s personal information.

The notice should link to a privacy policy that’s also plain to read — and in language that’s easy to understand. The privacy policy must give details about the kind of information the site collects, and what it might do with the information — say, if it plans to use the information to target advertising to a child or give or sell the information to other companies. In addition, the policy should state that those other companies have agreed to keep the information safe and confidential, and how to contact someone who can answer your questions.

That notice also should have directions on how to give your consent. Sites and services have some flexibility in how to do that. For example, some may ask you to send back a permission slip. Others may have a toll-free number you can call.

If you agree to let the site or service collect personal information from your child, it has a legal obligation to keep it secure.

What are my choices?

The first choice is whether you’re comfortable with the site’s information practices. Start by reading how the company plans to use your child’s information.

Then, it’s about how much consent you want to give. For example, you might give the company permission to collect your child’s personal information, but not allow it to share that information with others.

Once you give a site or service permission to collect personal information from your child, you’re still in control. As the parent, you have the right to review the information collected about your child. If you ask to see the information, keep in mind that website operators need to make sure you are the parent before providing you access. You also have the right to retract your consent any time, and to have any information collected about your child deleted.

What if it looks like a site or service is breaking the rules? 

If you think a site has collected information from your kids or marketed to them in a way that violates the law, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.