Changing the Narrative – a look at our collective responsibility.

Cut The Plastic Environmental Mitigation Solutions  – Colorado / Fiji / Samoa
Plastic Pollution information to change your life Solutions to change the world

Plastics and our planet Urgent action is required by all consumers to reverse the course of destruction

 

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Styrofoam, several types of hard plastic, aluminum foil, tires collect among banana, taro, mangoes and more at villages in Apia, Samoa.  This scene is common among islands where recycling does not exist.

 

by Brian Loma – Founder Cut The Plastic EMS

If you’re reading this either in it’s original English, or translated into your local language, you have consumed, or purchased, plastic at some time in your life.  Plastic was used to store the ink this is flyer is printed on. Plastics have, for better or worse, changed the way humans consume and have allowed for major improvements in advancements for all of humanity.  Unfortunately, as humans continue to increase the quantities of plastic that we use year after year, the methods and amount of plastic that is recycled or used again to make new things does not keep up with the demand for plastic products.  

The role of Cut The Plastic EMS is to bring a closed loop consumption process to end users, reducing plastic pollution into the environment. By using modern technology to reprocess plastics on the very islands around the world where plastic is burned into the atmosphere or directly enters the ocean.  Instead, we can develop enhanced infrastructure to eliminate dependencies on single use water while creating jobs, and enabling villages to have sufficient water for drinking and crops.  By providing these resources, we close the gap in consumption, impacting health, poverty and long term impacts of poisoning by plastic.

Simply put, we use the post consumer plastic to improve the lives of people who don’t have the means to get rid of the waste.  On islands, like most places in the world there is no extended manufacturers responsibility.  In the United State we call them Deposits and they are only available in 10 of 50 states.  Paying to have the plastics removed by boat from one island to the next in reverse order is currently not an effectively practiced idea as it can be where things like glass bottling exists.   By incorporating a multi level community focused approach we have begun plans for providing long term solutions through strategic partnerships in Fiji, Samoa and beyond.

From Apia to Savaii

Plastics can be found on serene nesting grounds on the shores of beaches around the world, but they are not yet seen from views like this between the islands of Samoa

Closing holes in the consumption process to prevent environmental pollution is a social responsibility.

Microplastic, considered less than 3 mm in size, is already contaminating most of the world’s oceans, great lakes and many of the worlds water infrastructure.  The plastics are found in soaps, sanitizer, shed from clothing and come from larger pieces of plastic as they deteriorate in the environment. Plastic now contaminates all levels of ocean life, beer in Milwaukee via the Great Lakes, and Salt around the world.  Most microplastic comes from large plastic that breaks down into smaller pieces. These pieces attract chemical pollutants to their surface. The pollutants are then transferred up the food chain as the plastic is eaten and bio-accumulates up the food chain. To read more about plastic pollution and the environment read my piece : The Midway Atoll, an example of Plastics Destructive Power

Solving plastic pollution requires local clean, potable drinking water

Since Princess Diana first call for united change to impact the needs of water and food for those in Africa in the 1980’s, the urgency to ensure clean water access for all around the globe continues to grow.  Unfortunately, so does the planets dependence on plastic single use water. Each case of bottled water consumes approximately 2.25 quarts of oil – burned into the atmosphere, just to manufacture and deliver it for use in the United States.  If you drink a case of bottled water a week, that is ONE BARREL of oil burned into the atmosphere per year – just to drink water.


Global climate change is about increases in frequency and intensity of storms or weather patterns.  They are occurring because of the quantities of carbon we burn into the atmosphere, for things like plastic bottled water.  This is having long term impacts on island nations around the world. In Puerto Rico, like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; access to clean water is an issue more than 6 months into the recovery relief.  It is for these reasons that communities throughout the world need to become self sufficient in ensuring that they have adequate access to clean water. Unfortunately, many in these far reaching places of the world, also buy and drink plastic water.  In these places most people don’t earn two dollars (US) per hour, a version of poverty is rampant.  In these places the plastic is burned into the atmosphere or ends up in the ocean.

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Classroom programs engage students in the conversation about Social Responsibility, Consumption Practices and how plastics need to be managed effectively.  These students from Robert Lewis College (High School) are well versed in plastics, pesticides and our bodies.

Recycling old plastic into new water collection systems.

In order to change this culture and to shift island villages into places where clean water brings greater economic freedom Cut The Plastic Environmental Mitigation Solutions.llc is designing a micro recycling factory to take to island overseas, as well as to encourage changes here in the States.  Previous articles like Issues Island Nations face with Modern Consumption Practices  look at some of the issues I’ve already examined by living in the South Pacific.  Based on these experiences I am on a mission to transform the post-consumer or ‘waste’ plastics into a clean water infrastructure.  By combing a variety of existing technologies like spooling, 3D printing, shredding and injection molding we can take old plastic and make new items out of it.  To learn more about plastic recycling and the processes we’re incorporating into our project be sure to check out Precious Plastic.   In addition to the shared global vision they bring, we are incorporating additional technologies and practices observed while researching life on islands south of the Equator.

This projects long term goals are: to reduce or eliminate dependencies on imported water supplies and single use plastics, crate jobs through the development of new recycling infrastructures and to close gaps in plastic consumption by utilizing manufacturing as the method to export post consumer plastics off the islands they are shipped to.  Additionally we’re hoping to improve the world around us, sparking the conversation around how we consume and what our social responsibilities are. We’re already engaging in the conversation and teaching people around the world to use less plastic and to be smarter in how they dispose of it.

Building a better future together

The next stage is rolling out the design and fundraising campaign. Later this summer we will be rolling out several campaigns both here in Denver and across the globe.  Our effort is to design and manufacture  portable wind and solar powered recycling facilities here in Denver utilizing ideas I gathered from a project in Swains Island that processes green bananas into flour using a shipping container factory and later found similar ideas in the Precious Plastic global community.  At the same time launching several partnerships through sponsored beach cleanups, teaching recycling practices and developing new locations where plastic materials will be sorted and stored, awaiting the micro factory arrival.  Our campaign will be teaching proper recycling techniques, which include eliminating consumption through responsible practices. The goal is to have facilities destined for the South Pacific Ocean and the island nations of Fiji and Samoa. We’re currently working with ministry and community leaders in both countries to approve initial target locations and to coordinate further education and mitigation projects.  


The entirety of these projects will be funded starting with social resource funding and targeting strategic partnerships with corporations that should be financially liable for the mitigation of the materials they sell that pollute our planet.  There are existing Social Responsibility entities whose coordinated relationships which will be announced also.

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Why we need to rinse or wash plastic before recycling.

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This Starbucks beverage container found in Denver, CO is an example of contaminated plastic.

Have you ever purchased a car before?  Was the interior full of dirt, food crumbs and the debris of life from the previous owner?  How about your apartment or home?  Was the outside or floors covered in mud? The answer is likely, “No”.  When we buy cars, clothes, food or whatever – there is a general expectation that the item we purchase will be in good condition free of excess debris or dirt.  When most people are presented the same idea regarding the plastic and paper packages of waste from their food purchases, for some reason the idea doesn’t correlate.  However, this is a very real and basic reason that China set stringent conditions for contaminants in the plastic and other recycling that we create for processing overseas.

Reporting on a statement made to the World Trade Orginization in 2017 China, Waste 360 reported that US plastics are to dirty for use.

To protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid wastes list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted. Protection of human health or safety; Protection of animal or plant life or health; Protection of the environment

These changes are causing the waste and recycling industries to look internally at the processes need to re imprint the culture. in order to create a cultural shift in our understanding. For now, the reality is that some states are telling consumers, this is garbage and you cannot put it in the recycling indicating that the inefficiency of our current system. In this January 2017 USA today article one single steam recycling faculty operator describes the problem-

“…all day every day there are plastic shopping bags (recyclable at a grocery store but not from a household), chunks of Styrofoam, diapers, syringes, food-contaminated containers … a nearly endless litany of things that residents throw into their curbside recycling carts figuring they are or ought to be recyclable.”

Contamination like straws, liquids and plastic bags are a daily problem for recyclers.

National waste management companies (USA) like Waste Management, Allied Waste as well as government and non government entities throughout the world are struggling with this problem as our populations continue to grow.

The problem in the US stems from the way beverage companies who oppose bottle bills or programs that ‘pay people to recycle’. According to the Container Recycling Institute, between 1989 and 1994, 14 billion was spent by the beverage industry to fight these laws.  This battle, fought by the beverage industry to deflect responsibility for the packaging materials they push into the consumption stream.  The fact that only 1/5 of the United States has a system of returning beverage containers in a deposit program says a lot about our basic cultural practices in considering the waste we generate.

In most industries, just like in recycling, the are basic standards. Those who are in the industry, including the scrap metal collectors who pick up appliances and metals off the roadsides and trash piles; understand that the “cleaner” the metals are, the more valuable they are. In my post, “Recycling household items- the fan, is it really worth it” I cover more on separating metals for increased value.  The cleanliness standards for plastic being set by recycling giant China, are too stringent to meet our cumulative  cultural understanding.  This means that when bales of recycling arrive in China, they can be returned to the US for being to dirty.

In the United States there is not a standardized national set of guidelines that are being taught as the proper process to organize and dispose of the ‘ things of life’.  Talking about our how we manage or process the ‘trash’ isn’t an exciting topic for most people.  This problem is one that organizations large and small alike struggle with.  How do I process this packaging so that its ready for the next step, and engage in the conversation so that company or community wide, people are working within the same standards.  Considering that for most people around the world, this isn’t a conversation that has ever occurred. The interaction between our consumption and its processing is currently, just beginning.  Because of these standards, as well as other struggles in ‘wishful recycling’ practices; Waste Management is among the entities driving the conversation. ‘Wishful recycling’ is putting things in the recycling that cannot actually be recycled via single stream. These include plastic bags, batteries, dirty plastic, Styrofoam (by community) and soiled food packages. Check out the video and hey, let me know your thoughts.

Urban Camping – Laws against homelessness increase the struggle to survive

 

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Activists of Occupy Denver outside Rock Bottom Brewery on Denver’s 16th St Mall.  Management claim to be against Denver’s Camping Ban, but have failed to publicly make a stance against Urban Camping Laws.

Denver, Colorado is a booming community located on the east side of the Rocky Mountain foothills.   Called the Mile High City, in 2018 there are few places you can travel in the city for one mile and not see the impacts of homelessness in the city.  Denver has a booming economy supported by a growing mass transit system and an international airport, the economy has been boosted by legalized cannabis reforms.  With all this in mind, Denver has, like many parts of the United States, experienced unsustainable spikes in homelessness issues.  Growing at a pace to keep up with the needs of the community has been a challenge that elected officials have been slow to find the backbone to show serious intent to create lasting solutions.  Denver businesses are a major part of this sluggishness.

In a traditionally corporate-centric move,  Downtown Denver businesses through a local lobbyist group the Downtown Denver Partnership and it’s leader Tammy Door; moved to solidify their profits by choosing to ignore the needs of the laborers that support them.  In 2012, Denver City Council passed the ‘Urban Camping Ban’ an ordinance that made it illegal to ‘camp’ or be homeless in the City and County of Denver.  At the time, it was suggested that Denver was failing in it’s 2005 commitments to eliminate homelessness.  During planning meetings, the Denver Westord reported in 2012 that commentators were very clear that Denver was making laws without proving effective solutions.  “Even if the city doubled its current shelter capacity, it would still not reach the necessary number, says Bennie Milliner, new executive director of Denver’s Road Home.” (Denver Westword, 2012)

Six years after the creation of Urban Camping Ban, activists continue to come out against this law and to promote intentional solutions.  Since the creation of the Urban Camping Ban, efforts by Denver Homeless Outloud, other activist groups and state representatives like Joe Salazar have pushed for the Homeless Bill of Rights – a bill designed to protect human dignity regardless of access to housing.  While this Bill has not passed committee for 3 years, the fact that these topics continue to be pressed by government representatives is a key sign that greater solutions continue to be sought after.

“What has been proven, that making laws against human survival, are inhumane and ineffective.  “City officials claim that they do not criminalize homelessness, but these statistics validate that they do. In 2017 alone, 4,647 people violating the camping ban were contacted by police. Make no mistake: even if a person is not arrested, ticketed or fined under this law, the very act of being contacted by law enforcement, asked to move along, or searched because of their unsheltered status amounts to a criminalization of that status. These individuals have all been told that they are committing a crime, by surviving. Sleeping with covers is essential to keeping proper body protection; criminalizing the ability to cover yourself is a threat to one’s life. Forcing people to move along results in the constant disruption of sleep and requires people to relocate to oftentimes hidden and unsafe locations. These police contacts are not only unnecessary, they compound the condition of homelessness, be it by the negative health effects, losing one’s personal documents or identification in the ensuing disruption, or resulting in a criminal record for merely surviving. 2016 saw a 500% increase in enforcement of the survival ban [urban camping ban], and 2017 numbers remain just as high. This is kind of response to a human health epidemic must be repealed for sanity’s sake of survival.” (Denver Westword, 2017)

 

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Denver, CO Community members sheltering from the snow on April 21, 2018 one day after the city hosted a public celebration of cannabis downtown. (Photo by David Anderson)

Today, May 7, 2018 Denver Homeless Outloud, will be hosting an event to release a report, Too High a Price: What Criminalizing Homelessness Costs Colorado, the second report from The University of Denver Sturm College of Law on homelessness and the laws against survival.  In the online abstract there are staggering facts like this,

“Many cities aggressively target homeless residents for panhandling and for trespassing. Fewer than half of the cities surveyed have restrictions on begging or panhandling, yet Denver arrested nearly 300 homeless individuals in 2014 for panhandling. Between 2013 and 2014, Denver issued over 2,000 trespass citations to homeless individuals. This represents more than half of all trespass citations in the city even though homeless residents are only 0.05% of the population.”

Laws against homelessness don’t work, they enhance the issue by pushing decriminalization instead of interactive support systems.  These laws, focused on persecuting people, are often presented and passed through pressure of lobby groups and campaign partnerships of local legislatures.  This is a common practice in the United States.  Lobby groups commonly write and push laws they design.  In a post I wrote back in 2015 on Microbead Legislation, I showed how microplastic manufacturers helped to write those laws.

As a plan of action, it’s important that we take action directly to prevent laws against homelessness to be written in our community.  Providing effective integrated solutions within our communities is not only more humane, it eliminates the need for such laws.  Business lobby groups indicate that the sight of homelessness is a blight, that it negatively impacts their abilities to be profitable.  They often do and say this while missing on the fact that within their own staff, most Millions of Americans are one paycheck away from homelessness.

So what do we do?  Between my job, feeding my family and paying my taxes – it’s hard enough!  Here are 3 places to start.
1) Stay involved in the activities of your local government.  Speaking out against laws that negatively impact homelessness can be a push to –

2) Support and volunteer with organizations that provide solutions.  Rising rents, underemployment and medical conditions are top reasons why homelessness exists.  Giving time and energy to help others has many rewards, most importantly you make a difference in people’s lives.

3) Open up space in your home.  Using a toilet in peace, taking a shower and having a good nights sleep are things most readers will take for granted.  Providing these to another human being is a humbling, life changing experience.  Through personal relationships and volunteering at your church or community centers it’s easy to meet and get to know a person seeking to keep their head above water.  Once the fear is gone, the freedom of helping others directly will change your life.

Homelessness isn’t always a choice, the focus of capitalistic values on property can often make it difficult to achieve such standards.  However, by working together we can achieve a standard where people don’t have to struggle for survival and fear arrest for being forced to sleep on the street.

FIJI Water Leaves Fiji Without Water

I’m really into the idea that keeping Fiji water in Fiji is good for the planet. One thing this article doesn’t cover that I found in my experiences which I highlight in this post, Climate Change, Plastics and social responsibility, more lessons from my trip to Fiji, Fijians are also buying Fiji water out of pride, and in many cases – burning the plastic into the atmosphere.  Creating long term solutions to water issues in remote islands, including preparing for changes due to climate shifts and increasing risks of violent storms – calls for immediate actions.

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The island nation of Fiji is one of our world’s few remarkable utopias where life seems to revolve around the sand and the surf. With its alluring flora, charming fauna, and its vast expanse of translucent blue waters, Fiji seems like the perfect getaway. Yet the islands are being exploited beyond belief for one of the globe’s most precious resources: water. When the FIJI Water company began bottling the naturally pure water from the islands in 1996, the integrity of the nation of Fiji was tarnished. FIJI Water began shipping water from the islands to their customers in the developed world a year later and the island nation of Fiji suffered. The BBC published a study in 2008 that showed that a third of Fijians lack access to clean drinking water while FIJI Water shipped in excess of 30 milliongallons of fresh water from the thirsting island nation to refined…

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“I drink bottled water and recycle my bottles, isn’t that good enough?”

There are no Targets in Fiji

Found on a secluded beach 1/2 mile outside Naviti Resort in Fiji, this water bottle and plastic bag are signs of how consumption and littering are visible everywhere. There are no Target department stores (plastic bag) in Fiji.

Over the last decade I have gone from a person who was oblivious to the issues of plastic pollution to being a person who daily advocates for people to give up their consumption of single use plastics every time it is possible.  I am not alone.  There are many groups that you probably haven’t heard of who are fighting on a daily basis trying to bring attention to this issue. The belief that because we properly dispose of the byproducts or waste materials, in this case the plastic bottle; that our duty is complete.  Unfortunately, such a strong faith in the system is proving to be incomplete.  As reported in the New York Times article, Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling; England is enacting measures like plastic bag bans and mandates to reduce plastic packaging in grocery stores.  However they report that, “Experts say the immediate response to the crisis may well be to turn to incineration or landfills — both harmful to the environment.

While living in Fiji and the Samoan islands, I spoke firsthand with village elders in Levuka, Fiji who expressed concern that the plastics collect and their only option is to burn the plastics.  Their concern is the same one facing nations around the world – what actually happens to the plastic once it’s consumed?  Currently, mass recycled plastics of certain grades can be utilized to manufacture new plastic packaging.  In the case of plastic bags, most are made of LP gas and can be processed quite effectively.  Through mass recycling programs at grocery stores throughout the United States these bags are processed time and again.  The quantity of bags captured meets minimum capacity requirements for this industry to be quite effective.

This is is not same however for plastics like beverage containers and statistics are even worse for materials like Styrofoam which are virtually unrecyclable.  In addition to the issue of the statistical ability of plastics to be recycled or reprocessed into new manufactured goods, there are greater levels of civic responsibility that require cultural shifts of thinking to understand how our consumption impacts the world as a whole.  For example each case of bottled water uses approximately 3 quarts of oil burned into the atmosphere to manufacture and deliver.  During this time of transport, plastics often become heated.  On the website Dr Geo, in the article Plastic Water Bottles exposed to Heat can be Toxic, it is reported that

“Virtually all plastic water bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and typically contain 190–300 mg/kg of antimony. Bottled waters become contaminated during storage due to a release of antimony from PET plastic. Actually, almost all packaged drinks are made from PET plastic.  This includes milk, coffee, and acidic juice, among types of food containers.”

In addition to Antimony, Bisphenol – A (BPA) is another chemical that is released when beverage plastics are exposed to heat or sunlight.  High level exposure to BPA causes early onset puberty and ovarian and breast cancer.  Additionally, according to breastcancer.org’s article Exposure to Chemicals in Plastic, “BPA also seems to affect brain development in the womb. In 2011, a study found that pregnant women with high levels of BPA in their urine were more likely to have daughters who showed signs of hyperactivity, anxiety, and depression. The symptoms were seen in girls as young as 3.”

Simply looking at these three issues – human DNA modification that impacts fetus in the womb and the generation of cancer cells, the carbon emissions that continue to impact global climate change and the overall ways plastic pollution is impacting our planet present a solid foundation for one specific plan of action.  There is one additional argument that I would like to ask you to consider.  Financial freedom through contentious practices.

Here’s the consideration I encourage you to make.  Depending on your preference from a standard glass jar to a high end vacuum sealed stainless steel hot/cold container – one could spend $1.00 – $30 US on average for a portable, go anywhere container.  Depending on the climate and quantity needed, many people even carry water bags with drinking hoses for drinking while working or walking.   These bags can carry 3 litters or about 1 gallon of water are are designed for backpacks. Additionally, there are places in the world where drinking water mean carrying jugs miles to gather all that can be physically carried – sometimes hours a day.  For most readers who have to purchase clean water, standard Ultra Violet (UV) and Reverse Osmosis Machines (RO) are often available at village stores for the equivalency of $0.50 US per gallon, when clean in home tap water is not an option.  Using a standard 12 oz bottle for calculation purposes: one case (24 bottles) of water is 2.25 gallons of water.  At a cost of $0.50 – $2.50 per bottle the price of water before factoring the cost of recycling the plastics is $5.00 – $25.00 per gallon.  If you drink 2.25 gallons or one case of bottled water per week – the average person will spend between  $260 -$1385 per year in water.  If a single person was to drink only 2.25 gallons of water per week (one case of bottled water) the cost difference in buying machine based water ($58.50)  versus prepackaged plastic bottles of water would be between $200 to $1150 a year in money saved.  According to medical information from sources like this article from the Mayo Clinic, the average person should drink about 1/2 gallon or 2 liters of water per day or 3.5 gallons per week.

Many reading this might think that spending $1000 US or more per year on water is no big deal.  This however isn’t true for many people around the world.  Look at example the people of Fiji who are fighting for a $4.00 Fijian wage.  This is the equivalence of $2.00 US an hour.  To buy bottled water that would mean spending 3.5 months of wages at 40 hours per week to buy bottled water each year ( at $0.50 a bottle cold in the store). When thinking about changing the standards of poverty, sustainability and climate change – cost savings alone stands as a primary reason to develop clean water infrastructure as part of the process of eliminating plastic bottled water consumption.

Please remember that my considerations haven’t even factored the savings if you live in places where the water coming into your home is regulated to be clean and safe for your consumption.  When looking at the cost of tap water, the price of $2.00 per THOUSAND gallons makes it’s own argument.  Carry your own beverage container and fill it over and over again.  This Money Crashers article will explain this more. The reality is that in order to make changes around the world, we need to first examine our own practices, and when possible consider how the financial savings could be used to positively impact others who don’t have,.

The first step then is finding yourself a nice sustainable beverage container to carry your water, coffee, tea with you where ever you may go.   What are your thoughts, do you believe your actions would make a difference?  Do you think this is important enough to tell other people about it?Please leave your comments or experiences below!!!

 

The shocking evidence that Shell Oil knew it was causing global climate change all along

It’s April 17th 2018.  The United States, as well as many other places in the world, has been experiencing storms or climate events of greater intensity and frequency for several years now.  This weekend Hawaii and over 1000 miles of land in North America were pelted with storms that are examples of such.  In Kawaii, Hawaii over 200 have been rescued from flooding, displacing families and causing water quality concerns for the whole island.  Meanwhile late season snowfalls have dumped over 12 inches of snow from South Dakota to Michigan weeks after a multitude of intense winter storms wreaked havoc on the East Coast of the United States.

Internal Report “Global Climate Change” shows Shell’s global responsibility of CO2 outputs in 1984 at 4% of global emissions. See the whole Document Here

If you have ever researched anything about the environment, it’s likely that you have heard something about Global Climate Change, Global Warming, or the Greenhouse Effect.  It’s likely someone has told you the weather is changing and that the world is getting warmer; or that the concepts of this are false and made up by hippies who want to return humanity to the dark ages.  It’s probable that your information overload on this topic says you as an individual are responsible to make a difference in the problem.  While this is true, the bigger picture is that corporations like Shell Oil and the way that have pushed their products to be consumed by the human population are a larger, and more importantly – intentionally complicit culprits in what may now be an irreversable sickness upon our planet.

The scariest part of this is that 30 years ago, Shell Corporation published internal documents that refer to a minimum of 7 years of research.  Reading these documents, paints a scary backdrop to a weather and consumption history of the last 3 decades.  What’s worse, is the intention examination and consent that comes out of knowing that the future problems of the world, which are predicted by this report to be irreversible, was intentionally followed through upon.

 

At this point, my reader – I’m guessing you imagine I have lost my mind or am consuming mass quantities of mind altering chemicals.  Unfortunately, this story has truth that is scarier than any fiction you might consider reading.  According to Dutch journalist, Jelmer Mommers, who introduced the world to this internal document to the world via De Correspondent, Shell Corporation pushed a climate change denial campaign knowing it would likely become a named defendant in future lawsuits and that the energy industry should push for responsible responses and solutions.

The introduction to “The Greenhouse Effect” clearly indicates in the 4th paragraph that the Energy Industry needs to consider it’s role in preventing or solving CO2 emission issues.

Now that I have your interest, I highly suggest you go and read the 90 pages of text directly at this link.

Climate Change, Plastics and social responsibility, more lessons from my trip to Fiji

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Plastic debris litters a shoreline in the capitol city of Suva, Fiji.

As the world gathers to take account of the ways humanity has made an impact on the global climate, and the ways we can work together to reduce our impacts on the world I want to look back into more of the lessons and experiences I had while in Fiji.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the activities I participated in was Climate Week events in Levuka, Fiji.  These events were in preparation for the ongoing climate talks happening in Bonn, Germany.  the purpose of this meeting, “under the Presidency of the Republic Fiji to negotiate the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.”

Impacts from climate change are affecting Fiji in many ways.  As the temperatures change along with the frequency of rainfall, concerns about water and food security are a real and active issue being faced by villagers in the 106 inhabited islands of Fiji.  Throughout my 2 year tour in the South Pacific I was overwhelmed by the dependence on imported food and the quantities of plastic that were consumed in remote areas of the world.  Much of this plastic is from water transported to the various islands on a one way trip of wasteful consumption and environmental pollution.   For most of the world, consuming plastic water is one of the greatest way individuals collectively pollute the world.  Additionally, due to the great awakening brought on by the Standing Rock Sioux, the indigenous people of the world are awakening their great and united voice, declaring that now is the time we must tend to the needs of Mother Earth.

While I was with the delegation members of the COP23 climate change week activities in September 2017, I engaged in a variety of conversations with village leaders and government staff.  Many were shocked at how the pieces of plastic water combine.  We talked about life on the islands, where for most needs, villagers are often required to grow their own foods, to work the land by hand and through a relationship with the Earth, eek out their livings.  We talked about plastic and it’s roles in global climate change.
I began by showing them how a bottle of water damages the environment through carbon pollution.  I explained how essentially, drinking plastic bottles of water burns oil into the atmosphere.  According to the Pacific Institute, the combined energy of creation and transportation of plastic is equivalent to 25% of the volume of the bottle in oil burned into the atmosphere.  Essentially for every 4 liters of Fiji bottled water one consumes, one liter of oil is burned into the atmosphere.  For a case of plastic water consumed in the United States that’s 2.25 quarts of oil per case of 12 oz (500 ml) bottles.

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There are no Target stores in Fiji, where both of these items were cleaned off a beach next to Votualalai Village off the Coral Coast where a key reef protection zone exists.

Through my time in working with those across the islands, many islanders will recognize their plastic water consumption as unnecessary.  I continuously asked people on the islands, what do they do with the plastics after they use them?    Please remember that left on the island, they will take up quantities plastics that left in the ocean will take up to 500 years to degrade into micro-plastics the size of grains of sand.

The reality is that across the islands of the South Pacific, including the island of Ovalau, Fiji – and the old capitol city of Levuka (a World Heritage Sitea World Heritage Site) plastic waste is often burned into the atmosphere.  Burning plastic has some impacts both global climate change as well as emissions that the ozone hole.  Unfortunately, every island nation that has people on it, consumes plastics in one form or another.  Many, like Fiji are phasing in plastic bag bans, generally with a fee or are introducing biodegradable plastic bags.

Sitting around a bowl of grog on a Wednesday evening in September, I was blessed to sit with people facing this issue first hand, where the problem is a daily part of life.  They have mixed water quality issues because some piping is starting to rust.  The infrastructure, laid in the ground 50-60 years ago; is beginning to deteriorate.  Many villagers are concerned that the replacement pipe is plastic and not metal.   Additionally, Ovalau was hit by a hurricane in February- 2016 and is still recovering from the storm. There are houses and buildings in every village that are not repaired.  By my observations I would estimate that less than one in twenty houses have rain water storage.

How do we solve this problem?  In most villages people don’t understand that carcinogens and heavy metals are released when they burn plastic trash. For two months I have been pondering this question.  If you’ve read my waste management paper on converting plastic to fuel, you know that there are many ways we can repurpose the waste from our consumption practices.  Currently I’m working on a feasibility study regarding a specific way to utilize post consumer plastics to create new molded or printed plastic containers.  This concept would allow local consumers to transform their waste into environmental preparedness and protect themselves from water scarcity as well and divert from the developing  practice of drinking water purchased from another place in the world.

As we look at what processes and ideas we can come up with to reduce our carbon footprint and the stresses upon mother earth, I for one am paying close attention to the conversations coming as Fiji leads COP23 in Bonn, Germany.

Fiji – Climate Change, COP23 and Sustainable Practices – A Firsthand Experience ( Part 1 of a Series)

COP 23 trash cleanup

Teaching children to clean rubbish provides lifelong experience to prevent the creation of litter.

I love Fiji!!!!   As a people the life and community mindset of people is a step away from the major concerns of the world.  “Bula”, the common greeting which is often responded with “Bula Bula” or “Bula Vinaca”;  is hard to express without a smile on your face.  In fact, in 2014 Fiji was determined to be the Happiest Place on Earth. Climate change is a daily and real life issue for many who live among Fiji’s 300 islands.  Here, in 2016 Hurricane Winston had a real life impact for many.  Homes, food sources and shorelines experienced catastrophic changes, changes that impact the daily life of villagers. In continued response to Winston as well as addressing the concerns for immediate and long term impacts of climate change and in support of their hosting COP23 in Bonn, Germany; Fiji engaged in a week long direct community engagement program the week of September 22-29, 2017.

In the town of , Levuka, Eastern Division, Fiji; I was blessed to find myself in the midst of an amazing group of people who were hosting a series of meetings in different villages on this island.  This was the Western Division meeting and there were several different meetings throughout the community.  Leveuka, a World Heritage Site, was one of 6 community sites throughout the country.

Members of this team included staff from Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Ministry of Fisheries,d Ministry of Taukei Affairs, Offices of the Provincial Administrator, Corrections and more.   This community had been working together for 4 or 5 days when I arrived on Tuesday night.  They opened the event with a parade on Friday, as can been seen in the local Fiji Sun article.  My two day adventure with this team consisted of meeting in the morning at the community meeting room, located just across the street from the village police compound.  We would load up and travel to a neighboring village. At the village, members of the community would meet with members of the team.  This happened in several segments.

mangrove planting cop 23

Children in Draiba, Fiji participate in replanting important mangroves which were destroyed by  Cyclone Winston in Feb, 2016

The first of these was the formal Kava Ceremony which is cultural to the South Pacific Islands.  During the Kava Ceremony, a cup of Kava grog is presented to the elders and leaders of the meeting.  While this occurs, these people have a chance to speak to the meeting at large.  Then, members of the working team would have opportunities to present key aspects of their programs and key important details of the Ministry’s working programs.  These programs focus on the realities of climate change and the ways that members of the village have responsibilities to take action both individually and collectively to help protect their families and to prepare for the continued changes that their village will experience as the conditions of the local climate continue to change.

Focusing on surviving the conditions of climate change is important to Fiji.  Simply looking at it’s makeup of over 300 islands allows for an easy understanding of why.  Under traditional and preparedness conditions, each island – even each village, should be self sustaining.  This means that food production, water cleanliness and storage; as well as secure housing and protection from water shortages are all responsibilities of the local government.  Through the COP23 program relationships, village elders are able to address concerns about the future needs of the villages and to build relationships with the employees from various agencies who will have the responsibility to address the needs.  Some of the needs addressed include: adequate long term planning for food resources, protecting against erosion, infrastructure to keep clean water available, and ensuring that adequate mangrove protections exist.

This leads directly to the secondary part of each day’s programming, hands on mitigation!!!!  It’s in this time-frame that members of the team, working together with the members of the loImage may contain: 1 person, sitting, child, outdoor and naturecal village community – get their hands dirty doing the work to prevent or mitigate against the impacts of Global Climate Change.  This time presented opportunities to learn how to set up nurseries to plant coconut fields and mangroves, protect against erosion by planting deep root grasses, cleaning up litter to protect the water supply as well as fisheries, and planting climate change resistant crops.

cop 23 coconut planting

Ministry of Agriculture representative, Irene Singh (left) explains the importance of planting traditional Fijian Coconut Trees as  Provincial Administrator Ropait Rakadi (right) and members of the community participate in planting a new field of trees.

Through these important hands on activities, both young and old were able to take some active role in supporting their village.  Recent events, especially recovering from the impacts from Cyclone Winston, bring understanding and urgency to active preparations and rebuilding efforts.  This practice aligns with the time tested phrase, “It takes a Village”, which well look at further in my next article.

Image may contain: 5 people, grass, outdoor and natureImage may contain: 1 person, sitting, child, outdoor and nature

Littering and pesticides damage your food and drinking water

To top off my journey of the islands known as Samoa, I was blessed to have a chance to speak to about 40 Robert Lewis Stevenson College (years 10-12) students about the work and passions of being a water protector and environmental scientist. 

The presentation started by showing how much rubbish I gathered just walking on the sidewalk of the campus. Really just a handful of bottle caps and a few pieces of plastic. These students were quite sharp when I asked how long does plastic last in the environment. “500 years!!”

The majority of these young minds wish to be doctors and scientists.  Big goals indeed! So I figured this would a good platform to explain for them the methods of animal and human toxic contamination from plastics discarded into the environment.

My presentation began with explaining how plastics are made from the same oil we harvest to make gasoline, kerosene and jet fuel; adding chemicals in the same way one might bake a cake.

We then carried through to how these pieces of plastic break down leaking chemicals into the water as the sun beats down on them. The most known toxic chemical is BPA which impacts both humans and fish because it acts like estrogen in our bodies.  For spawning fish, high quantities of BPA in the water can cause a minimum amount of male fish to be born.

The chain of contamination goes even further than just leaking chemicals from the plastic into the water on land and the ocean.  As plastics are leaching chemicals into the water, they are also collecting these chemicals on their surface. These tiny plastics also begin to grow alge, which causes fish to eat them.  As the fish eat these tiny plastics, often less than 5mm in size, the chemicals on their surface are absorbed into the fish.  As small fish get eaten by bigger fish, or grow into big fish themselves; a process called bioaccumulation occurs.  This means that larger quantities of toxins will be found in the food we eat.  We see this already in salmon found in Washington State, USA.
In addition to contamination from plastics, other forms of human consumption are adding toxicity into our food and water.  Medicines like antibiotics and birth control join chemicals like pesticides from farming; niccotine and formaldehyde from discarded cigarette filters and a whole host of items that pass through drinking water systems.  While many of these are part of life in large urban areas, much of the contamination is preventable.  

One of the most important ways to prevent this from happening is by cleaning up the rubbish polluting the Earth and by keeping trash in it’s place. Without managing the way we eat and consume ; chemicals from plastics, medicines and poisons will continue to spread through our water and  food supply.  In just a few generations we’ll have made this planet into a wasteland as seen in science fiction, including the popular Pixar movie –Wall-E.

But much of this is preventable, by doing your part you can become part of the change this and future generations need to have a beautiful healthy planet. Learn to shop and eat organic foods, practice sustainable consumption, avoid plastic bottled water and always tell your friends to clean it up when they litter and pollute the Earth.