Week of 7/26/09

Dear EarthTalk: What are some things that children and families can do to be greener (and to provide life lessons for the kids in the process)?

—Cynthia Mosher, via email

There are many ways to be green around the family that are sure to rub off on the littler ones in your midst—if they don’t beat you to it, that is.

With environmental awareness so widespread among younger people in our society, most kids have learned more about being green from their school teachers and camp counselors than we adults might have gleaned in a lifetime. For one, the environmental "Three R"s"—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—are followed at many schools nowadays. But just because your kids might hear about it at school doesn’t mean that it is sinking in, and that’s where you come in. By reinforcing such messages at home and on outings—and leading by example—you can be certain that today’s "tweens will be tomorrow’s greens.

If you don’t know where to start, look for the metaphorical low-hanging fruit: recycling. Learn what types of items your city or town accepts for recycling and sort accordingly. Teach your kids what goes into the recycling bin, and put them in charge. In many locales, residents must pay for trash hauling but not for recyclables, so diverting more of your waste stream to recycling will also leave more money in your wallet for those outings to the ice cream truck and toy store. Also, raid your recycling bin when the kids want to make arts and crafts; reusing materials for creative endeavors is about as green as you can get.

Most kids today learn more about being green from their school teachers and camp counselors than their parents learned in a lifetime. But it's good to reinforce those lessons at home, and recycling is a good place to start. Teach your kids what goes into the recycling bin, and then put them in charge.© Sean Dreilinger, courtesy Flickr Flickr

Another way to teach kids about being green is by talking about the foods we eat, where they come from, and the environmental impact our food choices have. No one wants to cause pollution or eat chemicals, kids included, so sourcing your food from local and organic sources when possible—and explaining why to your children—will benefit not only their development but the health of the Earth as well. Many vegetarians have chosen to avoid meat for environmental reasons, and should make sure their kids know why so they can make informed choices for their own diets accordingly when it’s their turn to decide.

Exploring the outdoors near or far with the family is also a great way to teach kids about appreciating and respecting nature and its wild plant and animal inhabitants. Any tidbits of knowledge you might have about the natural history of the place you’re visiting will be eagerly absorbed and remembered by the kids.

Richard Louv underscores the importance of fostering a connection between children and nature in his book, Last Child in the Woods. In it, Louv traces the evolution of a phenomenon he calls "nature deficit disorder," whereby kids raised on a steady diet of video games and junk food may not turn into the great stewards of the outdoors we might hope for. His solution? Get them off the couch and into nature, where they will surely be wowed by what they encounter.

Last Child in the Woods has inspired dozens of "Leave No Child Inside" initiatives around the U.S. since its 2005 publication, and Louv has gone on to found the Children & Nature Network, which works with upwards of 50 regional groups across the U.S. that offer programs connecting children and nature. Parents can find events and activities near them via the group’s free online interactive "movement map."

CONTACT: Children & Nature Network.

Dear EarthTalk: Is the "Draize Test" using live animals still used to test cosmetics?

—Jim M., Bridgeport, CT

A major protest campaign in the 1980s raised awareness about how harsh and inhumane the Draize Test could be for its unwitting subjects, mostly albino white rabbits. Many cosmetics companies swore off the test as a result, though some still use it today. Other similar, albeit less Draconian, forms of animal tests remain prevalent today throughout the cosmetics and personal care products industry.© cpkatie, courtesy Flickr

The Draize Test was devised back in 1944 by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) toxicologist John H. Draize to evaluate the risks of normal short-term exposure to new cosmetics and other personal care products. Still used today by some companies, the test involves applying a small amount of the substance under study to an animal’s eye or skin for several hours, and then observing whether or not irritation occurs over the following week or two. In most cases the animal subjects—usually albino rabbits bred for the lab—are put to death after the sometimes maiming and often painful test.

Of course, animal rights advocates have long opposed the Draize Test, which they consider cruel to the lab animals used as subjects. According to the non-profit National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), the Draize Test causes "extreme discomfort and pain" to the animals involved. In the eye version of the test, rabbits are placed in restraining stocks and their eyelids are held open with clips—in some cases for days at a time—to keep them from blinking away the test solutions.

As for the skin version of the test, animals" fur is shaved and then several layers of skin are removed with sticky tape before technicians apply test substances and cover over the abraded area with plastic sheeting. NAVS reports that either version of the test can cause "intense burning, itching and pain" and can leave subjects "ulcerated and bleeding."

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), a major protest campaign in the 1980s raised awareness among consumers and within the cosmetics industry about how harsh and inhumane the Draize Test could be for its unwitting subjects. Many cosmetics companies swore off the Draize Test as a result in intervening years, though other similar albeit less draconian forms of animal tests remain prevalent throughout the cosmetics and personal care products industry.

NAVS maintains that not only is animal testing of any kind inhumane, but it’s also more expensive and less reliable than other methods which do not rely on inflicting pain and suffering on rabbits and other furry friends. "The results of non-animal tests tend to be more consistent, and better predictors for human reactions," reports the group. "In addition, companies are spared the expense of breeding, caging, feeding and disposing of animals that are used in testing laboratories." Some of the leading non-animal tests are conducted on cell cultures, human and animal corneas from eye banks, corneal tissue cultures, and frozen corneas supplied by hospitals.

Another reason many companies are moving away from the Draize Test is that considerable information has already been yielded and recorded from past testing. Many companies are taking closer looks at the results of tests done years ago to glean information on how safe similar ingredients in their new products are without having to carry out new tests on new generations of lab animals. NAVS hopes that with the continued development of alternative methods, "animal tests, like the slide rule, will someday be made obsolete by advancements in technology."


EarthTalk is now a book! Details and order information at: emagazine.com/earthtalkbook.