Saturday, October 30, 2010

Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up

Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

“We never saw this coming,” said Johnny Gold, an official of the Newark Group, at the company’s plant in Salem, Mass. More Photos >

 

 

Trash has crashed.
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Overloaded at Recycle Fibers of New Jersey. Across the country, materials like paper and cardboard are accumulating by the ton. More Photos »

The economic downturn has decimated the market for recycled materials like cardboard, plastic, newspaper and metals. Across the country, this junk is accumulating by the ton in the yards and warehouses of recycling contractors, which are unable to find buyers or are unwilling to sell at rock-bottom prices.

Ordinarily the material would be turned into products like car parts, book covers and boxes for electronics. But with the slump in the scrap market, a trickle is starting to head for landfills instead of a second life.

“It’s awful,” said Briana Sternberg, education and outreach coordinator for Sedona Recycles, a nonprofit group in Arizona that recently stopped taking certain types of cardboard, like old cereal, rice and pasta boxes. There is no market for these, and the organization’s quarter-acre yard is already packed fence to fence.

“Either it goes to landfill or it begins to cost us money,” Ms. Sternberg said.

In West Virginia, an official of Kanawha County, which includes Charleston, the state capital, has called on residents to stockpile their own plastic and metals, which the county mostly stopped taking on Friday. In eastern Pennsylvania, the small town of Frackville recently suspended its recycling program when it became cheaper to dump than to recycle. In Montana, a recycler near Yellowstone National Park no longer takes anything but cardboard.

There are no signs yet of a nationwide abandonment of recycling programs. But industry executives say that after years of growth, the whole system is facing an abrupt slowdown.

Many large recyclers now say they are accumulating tons of material, either because they have contracts with big cities to continue to take the scrap or because they are banking on a price rebound in the next six months to a year.

“We’re warehousing it and warehousing it and warehousing it,” said Johnny Gold, senior vice president at the Newark Group, a company that has 13 recycling plants across the country. Mr. Gold said the industry had seen downturns before but not like this. “We never saw this coming.”

The precipitous drop in prices for recyclables makes the stock market’s performance seem almost enviable.

On the West Coast, for example, mixed paper is selling for $20 to $25 a ton, down from $105 in October, according to Official Board Markets, a newsletter that tracks paper prices. And recyclers say tin is worth about $5 a ton, down from $327 earlier this year. There is greater domestic demand for glass, so its price has not fallen as much.

This is a cyclical industry that has seen price swings before. The scrap market in general is closely tied to economic conditions because demand for some recyclables tracks closely with markets for new products. Cardboard, for instance, turns into the boxes that package electronics, rubber goes to shoe soles, and metal is made into auto parts.

One reason prices slid so rapidly this time is that demand from China, the biggest export market for recyclables from the United States, quickly dried up as the global economy slowed. China’s influence is so great that in recent years recyclables have been worth much less in areas of the United States that lack easy access to ports that can ship there.

The downturn offers some insight into the forces behind the recycling boom of recent years. Environmentally conscious consumers have been able to pat themselves on the back and feel good about sorting their recycling and putting it on the curb. But most recycling programs have been driven as much by raw economics as by activism.

Cities and their contractors made recycling easy in part because there was money to be made. Businesses, too — like grocery chains and other retailers — have profited by recycling thousands of tons of materials like cardboard each month.

But the drop in prices has made the profits shrink, or even disappear, undermining one rationale for recycling programs and their costly infrastructure.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ten uses for your body after you die , recycle

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN Senior Medical Correspondent

J. Nathan Bazzel donated his hip bones, which had to be replaced a few years ago, to Mütter Museum
J. Nathan Bazzel donated his hip bones, which had to be replaced a few years ago, to Mütter Museum
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • As you're charitable in life, you could also be charitable in death by donating your body
  • You can donate your body to a university so a first-year medical student can dissect it
  • A body broker will get your various parts to scientists for research and education
  • Donate parts to the Mutter Museum, and you could be on display for the world to see

(CNN) -- Like many Americans, you probably think you're pretty charitable. Perhaps you donate money to the needy or ill, give away your old clothes, volunteer at your child's school or participate in holiday gift drives in December.

But you may be missing something. As you're charitable in life, you could also be charitable in death. This holiday season -- Halloween -- you could start thinking about a kind of ghoulish donation: your body.

J. Nathan Bazzel has already made his plans. In 2001, he signed all the necessary documents to donate his body parts to the Mütter Museum, a part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. A friend of his worked there, and he knew that researchers from around the world came to look at its vast collection of body parts.

Bazzel, 38, is HIV-positive, and he wants scientists to learn from his remains.

"If just one person can take a look at my skull and kidneys, which have suffered from HIV and the drugs used to treat it, and learn something from them -- what a magnificent gift," he said.

He's so impassioned that the same year he signed the forms for his postmortem donation, he donated his right hip, which had to be replaced because of damage from an HIV drug, and then three years later, he donated his left hip.

Bazzel, who became the college's communications director two years ago, has already seen the benefits of having real human body parts on display: When high school students come in and see his hips' deformities, his lecture to them on the importance of safe sex takes on a whole new meaning.

Of course, being on display in a museum isn't everyone's cup of tea. So in the spirit of the season, here are 10 ways you can put your body to use after you die. In many cases, you can do more than one.

1. Donate your organs

Nineteen people die every day waiting for an organ such as a kidney, heart, lung, liver or pancreas. Learn about organ donation, sign an organ donor card, tell your family your wishes, and don't be misled by myths about organ donation. If you like, you can donate some organs but not others.

2. Donate your tissue

Your bones, ligaments, heart valves and corneas might not be of use to you in the hereafter, but they can certainly help someone else. Learn about tissue donation, sign a card, and again, tell your family members you've done this so they won't be surprised when the time comes. As with organs, you can specify what types of tissues you'd like to donate.

3. Will your body to a university

Help a future doctor learn about the human body by becoming a cadaver dissected by first-year medical students. A state-by-state list of medical schools can get you started. Be sure to ask exactly what will happen to your body. While you might be used for dissection, you could be used for other purposes within the school, and you might not have much control.

Here's an interesting conversation about the respect shown by students to their cadavers.

4. Help doctors practice their skills

If you'd prefer to be worked on by folks with more experience, actual, not future, doctors can learn from your body. At the Medical Education and Research Institute in Memphis, Tennessee, doctors brush up on their skills and learn new techniques; it's the training facility for organizations such as the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the North American Skull Base Society and the International Spinal Injection Society.

Doctors get to practice (and possibly make mistakes on) the dead rather than the living. In return, the institute provides for transportation for your body to Memphis, pays for cremation once the work is done and returns the ashes to your family (or, if you prefer, to an interment facility in Memphis).

If you like the idea, you can fill out a donor form. If you'd prefer to first see where your body's headed, the institute welcomes visitors.

5. Leave your body to "the body farm"

Did you ever wonder how, on TV shows, detectives know the time of death just by examining the body? Cops can thank the folks at the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center for helping them figure it out. "The body farm," as it's known, has "650 skeletons and growing" scattered over 2.5 acres in Knoxville, according to its website. Researchers and students study bodies in varying stages of decay to help anthropologists and law enforcement officials answer important questions, such as body identification and time of death analysis. (For a fascinating account of a visit to the center, see Mary Roach's book "Stiff.")

If you want to become one of those skeletons after you die, you're in luck, as they make donation pretty easy at the Body Farm. Get their Body Donation Packet, fill out their Body Donation Document and complete the biological questionnaire. They'll want a photo of you to help them learn more about "facial reconstruction and photographic superimposition as a means for identifying unknown individuals," according to the center's website.

If you live in Tennessee and within 200 miles of Knoxville, you're really in luck, because they'll take care of all the costs. If not, your family will be responsible for arranging transportation to the center.

Once they're done with you at the Body Farm, your family doesn't get your remains back, so if that's important to you, this isn't your best option.

6. Become a crash test cadaver

Plastic crash test dummies are all well and good, but there's nothing like a real human body to simulate what happens in a car crash. You can will your body to the Wayne State University School of Medicine to become a crash test cadaver by filling out its Body Bequest Form. The form is for donation to the university, but "if a person specifically requests that their body be used in safety testing that is ongoing at the Bio-Mechanics lab, then we would honor that wish," according to an e-mail from Barbara Rosso-Norgan, the school's mortuary supervisor.

7. Give your body to a broker

We don't mean a stockbroker; we mean a body broker, who will take your parts and get them to scientists who will use them for research, training and education.

There are several groups in this business, including Science Care, Anatomy Gifts Registry and BioGift Anatomical.

Generally speaking, here's the upside of these groups: They pay to have your body transported to their facility, and with the parts that are not used in research, they pay for cremation and to have the ashes returned to your family (some will, if you prefer, distribute them at sea). This can save your family a lot of money.

The downside: You don't know where your parts will go. "We don't guarantee that we can use the body in any specific research program, and that's because our research is always changing," said Kristin Dorn, community relations manager at Science Care. "Your intent is to donate to science, not a specific research project."

Some brokers will allow you to say what areas you'd prefer your parts not go to. If this is important to you, find the broker who offers this option. "If someone is ready to donate their body to science, they will definitely need to do some research," Dorn said.

8. Send your body on tour

If you've been to the "Body Worlds" exhibit, you know what plastination is: a process of posing and hardening a body so it appears life-like.

You, too, could become one of these bodies on display by donating to the Institute for Plastination. If you live in the United States or Canada, your body will be embalmed on your own continent and then shipped to Germany, where technicians will perform the plastination process. They'll remove fat and water, "impregnate" your corpse with rubber silicone and position it into a frozen pose (you might be, say, running or sitting cross-legged or performing ballet or perhaps riding a horse). Your body is then hardened into that position with gas, light or heat. The entire process takes about a year, according to the group's website.

Your family pays to get your body to the embalming location, and the Institute for Plastination incurs the shipping costs to Germany.

There are rules about donation. You can be old, and you can be an organ donor, but if you died in a violent manner, it might not work out, as your body must be "largely intact" in order to donate, according to the institute's website.

Also, there's no guarantee your body will end up in one of the five exhibits. Some plastinated bodies are sent to medical schools and training programs, and you don't get to decide the destination of your corpse, according to Georgina Gomez, the institute's director of development.

If you're interested in going on tour and you live in North America, read the Guide to Donors and fill out the Donor Consent Form. There are also forms for European donors.

9. Become a skeleton

Researchers from around the world visit the extensive skeleton collection at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

Here's some information and the legal donor permission form and a donor information form.

The ground rules: Your family pays to get your body to the museum's facility in Albuquerque, and your remains (besides your bones, of course) get cremated and disposed of; they don't go back to your family. Researchers who want to work with the skeletons have to apply to the museum's Laboratory of Human Osteology; the skeletons are not put on display for anyone at the museum to see.

If you'd like to be put on display, see below.

10. Be on display at a museum

Like Bazzel, you can donate parts of your body to the Mutter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

If you do so, you'll be a part of a pretty rarified group. Anna Dhody, the museum's curator since 2004, has received only three inquiries about donation after death, including Bazzel's.

"One woman contacted me and said, 'I have a 120-degree curvature of my spine. Would you like it when I'm done with it?' and I said, 'Yes, please,' " Dhody recalled.

Although the museum is particularly interested in bodies with abnormalities, it'll also consider taking your remains even if there's nothing particularly pathological about them. Either way, your family will have to foot the bill to get you to Philly. To learn more, send an e-mail to info@collegeofphysicians.org

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Everyday chemicals may be harming kids, panel told

 

October 26, 2010 1:21 p.m. EDT
Click to play
Gupta: Chemicals 'innocent until guilty'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a witness at Tuesday's hearing
  • The issue was the focus of the CNN special "Toxic America"
  • Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey is holding hearing in his home state

Newark, New Jersey (CNN) -- Of the 84,000 chemicals on the market today -- many of which are in objects that people come into contact with every day -- only about 1 percent of them have been studied for safety, Sen. Frank Lautenberg said Tuesday.

Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, told a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health that such little oversight means that children in the United States are virtual "guinea pigs in an uncontrolled experiment."

"Our current law does not allow EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] scientists to draw the bright line between chemicals that are safe and those that are toxic," the senator said in the hearing, which was held at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in his home state.

Lautenberg has introduced legislation that would require chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of their products before they're released into the market. He said the current law -- the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 -- is too lax, resulting in the banning of five chemicals in the past 34 years.

A toxic history lesson

The subcommittee is examining how chemicals that Americans are exposed to in daily life might be harming the health of children, including those developing in the womb, after a growing number of studies are finding hundreds of toxic chemicals in the bodies of mothers, and subsequently, in their babies after birth.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called the issue one of her main priorities.

"Everything from our cars to the cell phones we all have in our pockets are made with chemicals," Jackson said at the hearing. "A child born in America today will grow up exposed to more chemicals than any other generation in our history."

Manufacturers often cite confidentiality laws in refusing to reveal safety data, Jackson said, and they say new regulations would infringe on profitability. She noted that the United States is far behind other countries, especially in Western Europe, that have already banned several substances.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, also addressed the hearing, relaying what he learned as he researched a CNN special called "Toxic America."

Exposed before birth

Gupta said he was surprised to find out that only about 200 chemicals in use today have undergone testing required by the EPA.

"I'd always assumed government watchdogs had evaluated and signed off on the safety of the chemicals we encounter in our lives," he said.

Gupta said, "What we don't know can really hurt us. And there's a lot we don't know."

Gupta: Chemicals around us -- we must know more

CNN's "Toxic America" special, first broadcast in June, focused on the impact of exposure to chemicals in daily life. The first hour was "Toxic Towns USA," which looked at a once-rural town in Louisiana now surrounded by chemical plants, and the second hour was "Toxic Childhood," Video which examined chemicals in everyday life and their possible health effects.

While there is no science that demonstrates a conclusive cause-and-effect relationship between chemicals children are born with and particular health problems, studies are finding associations between elevated levels of chemicals in a baby's body and their development.

"Babies in this country are born 'pre-polluted,' " Gupta said.

Other witnesses in Tuesday's hearing were Lisa Huguenin, a New Jersey mother of a child with autism and an immune system disorder; Dr. Steven Marcus, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System; and Dr. Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health.

Perera's center has been following hundreds of pregnant women over the past 12 years to measure chemicals entering the womb during pregnancy.

The women trudge through New York City for 48 hours wearing special backpacks, each with a long tube that is slung over the shoulder. The tube, resting inches below the pregnant mom's mouth, sucks air into a special filter, giving an approximate measurement of the air that she is breathing.

The backpack is designed to measure ambient toxics spewed by vehicles and pesticides, along with chemicals from common household products.

"It surprised me when we analyzed the air samples [from the backpacks] and found 100 percent of them had detectable levels of at least one pesticide and the air pollutants we were interested in," Perera, who also is a professor at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, told CNN earlier this year. "Every single one."

Scientist taught world to get the lead out

So far, the toxics measured in the backpacks match what scientists are finding in the cord blood of the babies once they are born. Small studies by other groups also are finding common household chemicals in babies.

"We've measured hundreds and hundreds of toxic chemicals in the blood of babies that are still in the womb," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. "Flame retardants, the chemicals in consumer products like personal care products, makeup, shampoos. It's a very long list."

The organization's study found an average of 232 chemicals in the cord blood of 10 babies born in late 2009. They are chemicals found in a wide array of common household products, including shampoos and conditioners, cosmetics, plastics, shower curtains, mattresses and electronics such as computers and cell phones.

Perera and her colleagues are following the children in their study from the uterus, through birth, and up to their first several years of life. They recently published a study in the journal Pediatrics demonstrating an association between the chemicals they found in babies' cord blood and later problems on intelligence tests and development.

"Fifteen percent of children [in our study] have at least one developmental problem," Perera said.

The amount of chemicals measured in the cord blood of the babies seems to matter. The higher the concentration, the more the IQ among children seems to dip. The study is also being conducted among pregnant women in Poland and China, and finding similar results.

CNN Medical News producer Stephanie

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