Buffalo Burgers, Trashed PCs and Dirty Cotton

How can restaurants serve bison meat if there are so few of the majestic animals left in the wild? Aren't bison endangered?

—Pat Henderson, Columbus, OH

The American bison, which is commonly called a buffalo, is not on the U.S. Endangered Species List. According to the National Bison Association, there are approximately 350,000 of the animals in North American wild and domestic herds. Unregulated hunting had reduced their numbers to fewer than 1,500 in the mid- to late-1800s, from a population that was originally in the tens of millions. Legal protection in parks and the efforts of individuals on private land have helped restore the buffalo.

According to Wildlife Management Coordinator John Emmerich of Wyoming's Game and Fish Department, ranched and wild bison have very few differences, unlike, for instance, turkeys, which vary considerably between domesticated and wild individuals. Buffalo meat has a third less fat than beef, and the grass-fed herds are not usually subjected to as many questionable drugs or hormones as conventional cattle, making the food a healthier alternative. Despite some growth in the last 10 years, the bison meat industry has not had much success.

Jim Mason, author of Animal Factories and cofounder of Animals" Agenda, says, "Attempts to introduce new types of meat also failed with rabbits, ostriches and emus. People are glad the bison herds are growing and do not see that as a reason to kill and eat them. I think people want more alternative foods, not more kinds of meat."

CONTACT

National Bison Association
Tel: (303) 292-2833

—C.O.


What are the specific environmental hazards presented by discarded computers?

—Jan Mitchum, Springfield, MA

Computers are infamous for their rapid obsolescence. And most of the resultant glut of outdated computers and accessories ends up in the dump. Broadly known as "e-waste," old computers get trashed right along with your banana peels and toenail clippings.

"E-waste" can be a serious problem, because electronics devices contain many toxic compounds that can leach into surrounding land and groundwater. According to USA Today, the average PC contains "five pounds of lead (to protect the user from radiation) in the monitor alone. Circuit boards typically contain cadmium, mercury and chromium while the whole package is housed in brominated, flame-retardant plastic." The National Safety Council reports that, by 2005, 350 million computers will have reached obsolescence, with at least 55 million of them expected to end up in landfills.

Europe is leading the way in reducing "e-waste," with all computer manufacturers required to have recycling programs in place by 2003. In the U.S., several companies will now recycle or exchange computers, often for a marginal fee. IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard have all started such programs, while many groups can help you donate your old equipment to people or organizations in need.

CONTACT

PEP Computer Recycling Directory

—C.B.G.


I've heard that cotton is more environmentally friendly than synthetic fabrics. But what is the ecological impact of cotton?

—Christina Wong, Salt Lake City, UT

While cotton is more biodegradable than polyester, the heavy use of chemical aids by most cotton farmers has many green organizations concerned. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) says the cotton industry uses approximately 25 percent of the world's insecticides and more than 10 percent of its pesticides. Producing the cotton required for a regular T-shirt releases a quarter pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides into the water, air and soil.

According to the OTA, "The Environmental Protection Agency considers seven of the top 15 pesticides used on U.S. cotton in 2000 as "possible, likely, probable, or known human carcinogens."" Due to increasing consumer awareness, the demand for organically grown cotton continues to rise. In 1994, the Sustainable Cotton Project began efforts to network farmers, manufacturers and consumers to pioneer markets for certified organically grown cotton. And numerous specialty retail companies sell nothing else.

LaRhea Pepper, marketing developer for the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, says, "An awakening is beginning for what consumers put on their bodies. If you have industrial pressed sheets, you could be sleeping on chemicals."

CONTACTS

Organic Trade Association
Tel: (413) 774-7511

Sustainable Cotton Project

—K.M.