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Enviromentalists trashing the environment (again)

A few months back there was a report that the low-energy lightbulbs demanded by environmentalists and served up by a complicit government are causing dangerously high levels of mercury in children's bedrooms. Now, in strangely similar news, it is reported that recycled cardboard is causing some foods to have dangerously high levels of mineral oils.

Researchers found toxic chemicals from recycled newspapers had contaminated food sold in many cardboard cartons.

The chemicals, known as mineral oils, come from printing inks.

Cereal firm Jordans has stopped using recycled cardboard and other firms are to ensure their recycled packaging does not contain any toxic oils.

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Reader Comments (50)

Isn't plastic made from mineral oil? I'm as happy as anyone to see the greens hoist with their own petards, but how is recycled print in the cardboard different from the print that is put on it for the purpose of identifying the contents?

Mar 8, 2011 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Jordan's Special Museli was my favourite even before this welcome news that they have stopped using potentially contaminated packaging material.

Mar 8, 2011 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

Back to the good old days of wrapping fish & chips in newspaper. This was banned in the 1950s, if I remember rightly.

Mar 8, 2011 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

WARNING: Everything CAN Kill You!!

Mar 8, 2011 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterPascvaks

@ John - 1950s? In Scotland fish suppers came wrapped in newspapers well in to the 1980s as far as I remember. (as the external wrapping at least).

Mar 8, 2011 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

'Tis the well-known (except amongst politicians and environmentalists) law of unintended consequences.

Mar 8, 2011 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Re the lightbulbs - most of my local supermarkets are dissing them to TEN PENCE each - which must be less than cost. Sooner or later they'll want the floor space and the pallet-size display bins, and their contents, will finish up in landfill..
Reason..? Obvious - nobody likes them - but then government always keeps a large section going called the Department of Unintended Consequences...

Mar 8, 2011 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Ah... Fish & Chips in newspaper. Those were the days...

Mar 8, 2011 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

There was an interesting piece on (if I remember rightly) Channel 4 news yesterday - unfortunately I only caught the end of it:

Furniture and chip-board manufacturers were complaining about the lack of wood in the UK - because it's being bought up for bio-fuel powerplants.

Now the amazing thing, was the wood was being imported (presumably generating CO2 in the transportation process) - because the subsidies for bio-fuels are such that it is economic to do so.

Mar 8, 2011 at 1:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterCopner.

Copner. Yes it was Channel 4 news. Furniture makers cannot compete to buy wood offcuts because of the subsidies on offer for bio-fuel. More unemployment - another example of the law of unintended consequences.

Mar 8, 2011 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I thought the main danger from newsprint was cancer? Either the carbon-black or the binder caused lots of printer's premature deaths.

Mar 8, 2011 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

Does anybody know whether the so called "green" light bulbs actually are so green when looked at "from dust to dust"? One I had broke after only around 10hrs use and I saw there were all sorts of electronic components in it. Surely they must produce a lot more co2 to make, plus being dangerous at the end of their life?

Mar 8, 2011 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterSerge

Oh Serge, you are really naughty. You're supposed to dispose of them safely!

Mar 8, 2011 at 2:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterPFM

@David 1.14 pm.

The reason for the 10p CFLs in Tescos is that the energy companies have been forced to subsidise them heavily (which means that we have been forced to subsidise them through our bills). If you look on the packet they've usually got something like npower or EDF printed somewhere. When that ends or is shifted elsewhere, the price will rise. Since the government has pretty well stopped the sale of ordinary bulbs, and years before the ban, was leaning on the likes of Tesco to not sell conventional bulbs, it's hardly a question of popularity or customer choice. If you want incandescent bulbs, you have to work quite hard to find them.

I take them to be another green measure which at a glance seems to do wonders, but when you look at it end to end, and consider the problems it creates as well as those it solves, has far less useful effect than it's supposed to and may well have the opposite effect to the one intended.

Mar 8, 2011 at 2:35 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

You'll be telling us next that wonderful gold lame cloak the emperor is wearing doesn't really exist. Silly boy!
I noticed from the DT report on the packaging scare that even the FSA are saying it's probably nothing. I can't work out whether the right response is "if even the FSA aren't panicking then there really can't be anything in it" or "if the FSA aren't panicking then the rest of should be". Tough call.

Mar 8, 2011 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Come on Mr Hill you must realise that the one thing on the planet the enviro's don't want to save are the humans.

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Re Copner

Furniture and chip-board manufacturers were complaining about the lack of wood in the UK - because it's being bought up for bio-fuel powerplants.

It gets better. A while back I was suprised to see the number of dedicated bulk woodchip carrier ships. Part of the reason was naturally increased demand, especially from Europe to supply environmentally friendly biofuels. Often with woodchips sourced from Brazil or Asia. Burning other people's forests is green I guess.

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

That Channel 4 News item on biomass is Kafkaesque, here's it is:

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterFergalR


That's the nub of it. if you are seriously interested in reducing CO2 emissions, to control GLOBAL warming, there's no point doing things like shutting down steel plants in the UK and having production shifted to India, say, where they couldn't give a stuff about CO2. That is, it makes no sense from any point of view, limiting CO2 or the economic well-being of the UK. It does mean the government can tick a box and say they've done something and the fact that this appears to be their hypocritical and very short sighted view is worrying.

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

Exactly how does the mercury get into the children from the light bulb?

If it doesn't, but stays safely inside a glass tube, isn't this total bo????ks?

And how does the oil in the cardboard contaminate the food contained within an internal PLASTIC bag?

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

This news item is what happens when chemophobia meets envirochondria.

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterAaliamzen

Why do you cite BBC as a reliable source when they are eco-paranoid overall?

Mineral oils and wax are not very toxic. It is safe to use mineral oil on your wooden cutting board. These ingredients are safer than "natural" alternatives (alcohol) in cosmetics. Ever seen preserves with wax seals?

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterEric Gisin

John in France

Back to the good old days of wrapping fish & chips in newspaper. This was banned in the 1950s, if I remember rightly.

Yes, I remember the first time I went for fish & chips in London and got it wrapped in butcher paper. In 1960's. I felt cheated of the experience.

Still it was "re-purposing" and therefore green. It should be the next great green move, bring back newspaper wrapping for the fish and chips!

Mineral oil

This is a misnomer as the real problem is stuff like benzene, which is in "mineral oil" which if refined has stuff that is used for medicinal purposes such as Vaseline. Benzene is really bad for you, as are most of the "aromatic" compounds.

Also, most plastic made today is made from natural gas as it is much cheaper. This is particularly true of polyethylene and polypropylene.

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

When printing for the food industry we are meant to use food safe inks, there is also a move towards vegetable oils. But its not just the inks, there is a lot of stuff in lithograhy, flexo etc that gets onto print. To recycle it, you have to use some pretty stringent bleaching processes, otherwise your recycled paper is a bit murky looking. But you are not supposed to use bleaches, it kills things, so 'un-bleached' is the green way...which conflicts with recycled paper because it has to be 'bleached' to stop it from being murky. If you think Global Warming is daft, do some research into recycled the print trade all the peeps involved know its a joke and a con, but the steer groups tell the bluechips that the yummy mummies want to save they get sold 'recycled' as something to make them feel good about themselves.
There is a place for recycled papers, there always has been, its pretty low down on the chain of paper products, ie make it cheap and use it where it does not matter if its a bit horrid to look at. But we are trying to replace pristine white printing papers with recycled and it just does not work...the fibres are too short, the sorting is horrendous, the bleaching, and even then it has to be mixed 50/50 with virgin pulp to make something that is barely adequate. The Revive/9 Lives brands let the cat out of the bag with their own blurb when they offer reduced recycled content for those wanting 'a better quality product'
Recycled paper - or let me clarify - fine grade recycled paper is a joke.
OT but the next conversation is about sustainable forrestry, logging, channels of open clear fell etc this again WWF/Greenpeace are woefully ill informed, or perhaps care not to produce a balanced view.
Anyway...back to the topic at hand I guess. But just for the sake of those not in the trade...recycled paper?...ha hahh hahaha...

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered Commentermikef2

WRT safe inks, I thought that newsprint had switched to water-based ink ages ago. Isn’t that why newspapers don’t burn so well? I don’t use them for lighting fires much these days...

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"And how does the oil in the cardboard contaminate the food contained within an internal PLASTIC bag?"

Steveta_uk, maybe people are rubbing their Crunchy Oats on the packet. Though that's tantamount to cereal abuse.

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

"Exactly how does the mercury get into the children from the light bulb?"

When it gets broken, and they are quite fragile. My son broke one with his fingers when screwing it in recently, so he's back on chimney duty now... :-)

Mar 8, 2011 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Lithography is based on the principle that water/oil don't mix (ok they do..but the chemistry we use controls it before emulsification occurs..usually anyway!) so we are talking about different things with newsprint which is often direct print, gravure, flexo, relief.......there is also digital print and that has varies types too. And paper is not the same, it varies according to need, newsprint ain't like woodfree etc etc
Ok...print is very boring...lets move on. My bad. Heh.

Mar 8, 2011 at 4:04 PM | Unregistered Commentermikef2

Replacing coal by biomass leads to a shortage of wood for furniture making, but it also means there is a surplus of coal. So why not make furniture fom coal?

Mar 8, 2011 at 4:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

@ James P

Isn't plastic made from mineral oil?

The feedstock for the petrochemicals plants that make plastics is either naphtha, natural gas, or sometimes LPG.

Naphtha is a petrol-like product also used in gasoline blending. There is some naturally-occurring naphtha and LPG but mostly these are sourced from refined crude oil. So yes, plastic is made from mineral oil or mineral gas.

@ Dreadnought: you can, via Fischer-Tropsch pyrolysis, make coal into naphtha and thence into plastic. The former process emits a lot of CO2 - which is fine, because it's a plant food, not a pollutant, and is thus good for the greenness of the planet.

Mar 8, 2011 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

mikef2, how does what you say fit in with the paper sitting by the printer down the end of the office: "EcoTeam laser printer paper. Made from 100% post consumer waste Contains a minimum of 50% UK waste". Are you talking about a different kind of paper, are the using language creatively, or have they solved the problem?

Mar 8, 2011 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Fisher

'We will not pick up toxic new bulbs': Councils say energy-saving lights are too dangerous for binmen

Mar 8, 2011 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJC

Rob - its because its awful uncoated tat!
We have always been able to make awful uncoated tat by recycling paper, and then bleaching the crap out of it to make it look ok if you want to run it through a photocopier. There is a world of difference between that and a good quality paper.

Paper has a few lives before the fibres become too short to do anything with.
For brevity lets call it Fine virgin White in its first life, then we recycle it and call it 50% Recycled (ie we still need that virgin pulp to keep it half decent), then we recycle it and call it "cheapo magazine grade yellow tat that has no strength and cracks on the fold and the coating falls off'" then we recycle it and call it newsprint/manillas/wrappings, then we recycle it and call it corrugated boxboard/greyboard then we recycle it and call it cavity wall insulation..
My objection is that this has always been the case, nothing new, but now we are pretending to do away with the first step and increase the second step...which is impossible. If we all decided to have recycled paper only, we would run out of paper within a few weeks because you need that Virgin pulp at stage one...paper fibers degrade on each 'recycling'. You cannot recycle it beyond a few times (some say 3, some 6..its subjective on quality).
BTW...paper has nowt to do with rainforest hardwoods...we make paper from the fastest growing rubbish trees, eucalyptus/pine - stuff that carpenters hate. Rain forest is depleted in the main by farming/lumber..not paper. Though plantations will move in once land has become available - its a moot point - search out Trees are the Answer by Patrick Moore (no..the other one..). Something also to remember is pine trees are relatively shallow rooting and happily grow on rocky steep slopes such as Welsh valleys which otherwise have little land use..and withstand cold...which is why half of Scandinavia is pine trees..not alot else they can do with the land...

Mar 8, 2011 at 6:29 PM | Unregistered Commentermikef2

Thank you, J4R.

My implied point was that contact with plastic is probably more hazardous than with a bit of recycled newsprint. Even the food-grade stuff leaches a bit, and I’m pretty sure I can taste it in yoghurt (and don’t get me started on Aspartame!)

Mar 8, 2011 at 6:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Re mikef2

But don't we all work in paperless offices now? :p

Fascinating stuff though. I learned a little from having StoraEnso as a neighbor and excuse to chat with their cute Scandanvian staff who often cursed the environmentalists and their tree fetishes. Then had DeLaRue as a client. Also had an invitation from some Japanese colleagues on hand-made paper I think from cedar bark. Was tempted to buy some till I discovered the price :)

Mar 8, 2011 at 6:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterAtomic Hairdryer

I suspect it is only "dangerously" high level if you completely redefine the meaning of the word "danger."

What a strange society we have become.

Mar 8, 2011 at 7:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Why is anyone surprised by all this? Nowadays the important thing is not to solve problems but to be perceived to be doing something about them. That does not apply just to environmental policy. It applies to British government policy in many different fields and by saying that I am not suggesting this government is any worse than the last one.

Remember the ending to the film the Wizard of Oz? The Straw Man had no brain so instead of giving him one the Wizard gave him a diploma. Things are exactly the same in Britain today with examination results being hailed as the best ever every single year even though employers complain that standards have gone down and universities are having to run remedial courses.

The cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz was given a medal. The MOD cannot find money for planes to fly from our planned aircraft carriers but medals will be about the only thing it can afford.

Energy saving lightbulbs and wind turbines serve the same purpose in environmental policy as the diploma and medal issued by the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz.

Mar 8, 2011 at 11:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

The law of unintended consequences. Yet again.

This will happen again and again. The world is complex. Food processing and packaging is very complex. Simple rules put on to complex systems produce unintended consequences. Generally those consequences have the opposite effect of what was intended.

Mar 8, 2011 at 11:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterben

OMG! So are they saying that my Corn Flakes are cereal killers?

Mar 8, 2011 at 11:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Bromige


Exactly how does the mercury get into the children from the light bulb?

If it doesn't, but stays safely inside a glass tube, isn't this total bo????ks?

Just drop one and see what happens. The mercury will vaporize even if cool, and if the tube is broken while hot, it will be in a vapor.

Mar 9, 2011 at 4:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra


"then we recycle it and call it cavity wall insulation"

I knew it - my house is killing me! Whom can I sue..?

Mar 9, 2011 at 8:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

This quote from Moneycorp's Daily Market Brief would seem to put this latest non-event into perspective:

Now it appears the recycled cardboard is infused with toxins. They are so deadly that someone who ate nothing but cereal boxes for 60 years would have a 5% higher risk of dying before the age of 55.

Nothing like a smile on a cold Wednesday morning.

Mar 9, 2011 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

IIRC, Kellogg's were persuaded to add vitamins to their most famous product when it was pointed out that without them, the box was more nutritious... :-)

Mar 9, 2011 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

The story on the BBC website doesn't mention environmentalists at all. Nor is it about trashing the environment. The story is that there is some toxic additive being used in the recycling process of some cardboard. That's not the fault of environmentalists. Sorry to let the facts get in the way of a good strory.

Mar 9, 2011 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

Read it again, the article clearly state the contamination is from newsprint. Recycling has been one of the Mantra's of the environmental movements for decades and so quilty by association. Decisions on recycling should be base on objective full life-cycle analysis not on an emotional fuzzy feel good basis
Old Mike

Mar 9, 2011 at 5:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterOld Mike

Hengist McStone


Mar 9, 2011 at 6:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


I'd just like to say something personal here.

I was unaware of the food contamination until reading this post.

My wife gives our 3 y/old (unsweetened) cereals every few days for breakfast, although she knows I think they are processed crap.

I have just returned from placing the entire household stock of the stuff in the bin.

Each and every pack boasted its 'environmental' credentials in terms of being 85% or 90% recycled material.

So yes, there is a direct linkage between 'environmental' rhetoric and the poison in my son's breakfast.

I am barely able to type I am so bloody angry my hands are shaking.

Mar 9, 2011 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Here in my remote fastness from time to time I talk with a packaging man. About 2 or 3 years back he was hoping to skoop the market with, as I understood it, a business to make cardboard box food containers, presumably rather like the polystyrene ones, out of waste paper. This was only possible because he had located a hi-tec coating which prevented the leak of food into the paper and toxins in the paper into the food, to be sourced from a large US household-name chemical company. Two or three months ago the creation of the business was still on track.

Good or bad for the environment when compared with the polystyrene? Depends on the coating, I suppose, but there would be no project unless he saw profit, which presumably means lower costs and hence lower industrial inputs and carbons. Unintended greenery!

Mar 10, 2011 at 2:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterEclesiastical Uncle

Mineral oil? Two nights ago I watched "How it's made" on one of the digital channels, and they were showing how jelly worms (and presumably other jelly sweets) are coated with a thin film of mineral oil to make them shiny. Hmmm....

Though I do wonder how the mineral oil penetrates the impermeable inner bag to get into breakfast cereal in any significant amount. Or is this an example of the vast difference between "significant amount" and "legally permitted maximum"?

Mar 13, 2011 at 8:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterMalcolm

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Bishop e. bernard Jordan

Aug 19, 2011 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterBishop e. bernard Jordan

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