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Dear EarthTalk: There are so many energy drinks on the market, but they all seem very high in sugar, coloring and preservatives. Are there any natural versions that offer a healthier kick-start?
-- John Hwang, Cambridge, MA

Energy drinks constitute one of the fastest growing sectors of the soft drink market across the U.S. and around the world, with some 500 new varieties introduced in recent years. But it’s true that most are far from healthy. Besides containing excessive amounts of sugar and caffeine, which alone can be dangerous to those with diabetes or heart conditions, many also feature a battery of supposedly beneficial herbal supplements (taurine, guarana and ginseng) that are not proven to increase energy and may actually sap energy, being detrimental to bodies overloaded with new and unfamiliar stimuli.

“Most of the energy drinks contain high-tech-sounding ingredients that are not controlled substances, of no value, and potentially harmful” in large amounts, says sports nutritionist Cynthia Sass. “The amount of the stimulants is not always listed on the label, and even when the information is listed, it is hard for consumers to interpret because we are not familiar with these ingredients.”

Sass recommends good old fashioned water as the best alternative to energy drinks. Re-hydrating is a great way to stay alert and to move other nutrients through the body. Other tried and true ways to increase energy include maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical activity and, of course, a good night’s sleep.

But what about those times when you really need a boost? Yerba mate tea, which is derived from yerba mate plants that naturally contain caffeine as well as other natural stimulants, is a popular choice. Perhaps part of the reason some people swear by it is that its brewed leaves contain theobromine—also found in cocoa—an alkaloid known to help elevate the mood. Boosters of the drink say it also helps strengthen the immune system, relieve allergies and aid in weight loss.

Not a straight tea drinker? Brewed yerba mate, which has an earthy flavor that some call an acquired taste, is sold commercially not just as tea but also blended in lattes, coffees and energy drinks. Guayaki (available at Safeway, Wegmans, 7-Eleven and elsewhere) is one of a handful of companies paving the way for yerba mate in the U.S. The company sells flavored versions with a hint of cane juice to sweeten it up for otherwise sugar-addicted American consumers.

Another take on healthy energy drinks comes from a handful of companies selling products with vitamins and nutrients instead of caffeine to give drinkers a kick. Zipfizz is a powder that can be mixed in with water and contains a combination of vitamins and minerals that provide the body with electrolytes, antioxidants and vitamin B-12, among other natural, immune-strengthening nutrients. Eniva Vibe, also packed with vitamins and minerals, is another popular new entry into the healthy energy drink market.

As with anything you consume, mileage may vary, so to speak, so experts advise going slow at first to make sure it agrees with you. And if all else fails, remember you can always just go take a nap.

CONTACTS: Cynthia Sass, Guayaki, Eniva Vibe, Zipfizz.

Dear EarthTalk: How or where can I recycle clothes that are too old or worn out for Goodwill?
-- Tim Cheplick, Perrineville, NJ

Just because that old shirt you used to love is too threadbare to wear anymore doesn’t mean it has to end up in a landfill. “Consumers don’t understand that there’s a place for their old clothing even if something is missing a button or torn,” says Jana Hawley, a professor of textile and apparel management at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “Ninety-nine percent of used textiles are recyclable.”

Non-profits like Goodwill and the Salvation Army play a crucial role in keeping old clothes out of the waste stream. When they get donations of clothes that are too threadbare to re-sell in one of their shops, they send them to “rag sorters” that specialize in recycling pieces of fabric large and small. Says Hawley, these textile recyclers sell about half the clothing they get back overseas in developing countries, while unusable garments, especially cotton t-shirts, are turned into wiping and polishing clothes used by a variety of industries and sold to consumers. She adds that other textiles are shredded into fibers used to make new products, such as sound-deadening materials for the automotive industry, archival-quality paper, blankets and even plastic fencing.

Outdoor clothing and gear maker Patagonia, which plies a strong environmental mandate in key aspects of its operations (from sourcing of raw materials to managing waste to making grants to environmental nonprofits), in 2005 launched its innovative Common Threads Garment Recycling program. The program was originally begun so customers could return their worn out Capilene long undies for recycling, but has expanded to taking back Patagonia fleece and cotton t-shirts as well as Polartec fleece from other manufacturers. Consumers wanting to unload items that meet the program’s criteria can do so at any Patagonia retail store or by mailing them into the company’s Reno, Nevada service center.

Of course, do-it-yourselfers handy with needle-and-thread or sewing machines can turn their old clothes into new creations such as quilts, handbags and smaller items. The website Expert Village, which claims to have the largest online collection of “how-to” videos, offers a free series called “How to Recycle Old Clothes into New Fashions.” Short step-by-step videos in the series cover such topics as transforming old garments into works of art; sewing patches, buttons and beads onto old clothes; deconstructing a wedding dress; ironing graphics onto old garments, and much more. Another good use for threadbare clothes (as well as sheets and towels) is pet bedding, whether in your own home or donated to a local animal shelter.

According to the non-profit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, textiles make up about four percent of the weight and eight percent of the volume of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. The commercial recycling company U’SAgain—which runs private for-profit recycling services in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis, Seattle, St. Louis and elsewhere—finds that some 85 percent of the 70 pounds of textiles the average American purchases each year ends up landfilled. That means the typical U.S. city with 50,000 residents has to pay (with local tax dollars) for the handling and disposal of some 3,000 tons of textiles every year. The shame of such waste is that textiles are so easy to recycle or otherwise find new uses for.

CONTACTS: Goodwill, Salvation Army, Patagonia, Expert Village, U’SAgain.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.
www.Dishmag.com / Issue 79 - September 1650
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