Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Something you'd rather not know

For several years I enforced hazardous waste regulations on a federal property. I learned a lot about the primary law regulating these substances, or not. We found some very hazardous wastes fall through the cracks of the law. Others are specifically excluded for logical reasons.

An example of logical exclusion comes from copper mining and metal refining in the western US. A large fraction of copper comes from copper bound with sulfer, or copper sulfides. To refine to a relatively pure form of copper, sulfuric acid is a waste product that would be considered a hazardous waste. The law (RCRA) allows that if a waste product is a feedstock for another product, it is exempt from the hazardous waste laws and is managed under the hazardous materials laws. So, refiners sell the sulfuric acid to companies that make automotive batteries or otherwise need the acid for their products. This makes sense to me, and reduces the overhead of disposing of an otherwise useful waste product.

So why do I mention this? In trade with foreign nations, their products are usually required to comply with many US laws, including RCRA. However, the law does not define which hazardous wastes can or can't be used as a feedstock for another product.  Rubber and plastic items, already a chemical brew, can accommodate a lot of 'stuff' and retain their basic ability to take a utilitarian form.

Can I prove that this is happening? Not directly as I have no lab to prove it nor the cash to pay for lots of testing. Why do I suspect that this is happening?  Have you ever held a dog toy (made in a specific country that I won't name) to you nose and smelled it? Now do the same if you can find one made in the US. (I did this with Kong dog toys when you could still find them made in the US) Which do you want in your dog's mouth? Other items, like rubber door mats and some automotive enhancement products, like rubber-backed steering wheel covers, exhibit a similar sniff-test result.

Although US companies manufacturing in the US could do this, most don't because it is just not right.  They also know that their employees would eventually become whistle-blowers, and rightly so.

As you go about your daily commerce, and especially your preparedness activities, please pay attention to the country of origin and other aspects of items you purchase. Buy American when you can. Yes, it maybe a bit more expensive, but you have the benefits of our social values to better protect you from the possibility of legal poison for you, your family members and your pets.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Learning from my garden

Our garden supplements our food supply with fresh fruits and vegetables. We still trek the 90 miles round trip to the store for most of our normal fare. Perennial fruits and vegetables are my focus, rather than annuals. Most years we get heavy crops of currants and apples, and moderate crops of raspberries, service berries, plums, rhubarb, prickly pears, Italian parsley, sunchokes, pomegranates, and blueberries. Some years we get other things, but it is very weather dependent.  From these crops, I trade jams, fresh apples and dehydrated apples for other fresh vegetables with neighbors.

This year has been different, primarily because the normal weather pattern was odd. Spring was warm with the obligatory mid-April deep freeze. The heat of June extended well into July. The monsoon was late and very sparse initially. Late July and early August, the rains were strong and frequent, then dried up for a couple of weeks. This has brought out very different responses from our producers.

Currants were a little below normal, but they are generally bullet-proof. We can count our apples on one hand. That's quite a blow. The plums were prolific. Strangely, the strawberries are producing like crazy. I'd gotten to the point I thought of them more as ornamentals because of their minimal output, so it's a nice change. We've actually had some almonds, which is rare. The blueberries were all nipped. We have our first nectarine, but just the one. The prickly pears are a month behind in their ripening.

What this is teaching me is that we need to keep some perennials that don't produce in 'normal' years. We need a few of those odd plants that may only produce well in an odd weather year.

Even more odd to me is the state of my little experimental winter garden. It is essentially self-managing right now an dI check it weekly. The parsnips I planted last September did nothing. I thought the seeds were too old. In May, they came to life and I have a lush parsnip garden. They won't be ready until fall, but it was a lovely surprise to see them thriving. I had sewn some purslane, which is a nutritious salad green. It is also a welcomed self-managing ground cover, which unfortunately many people see as just a weed. It has started to show up in a few places.

Soooo, my lesson from the garden this week is not to give up on the low-producers. Keep the variety. They may bail you out in years when the weather shifts.