Some tips to running a successful community litter cleanup

 

 

finding things in the water

Students from the Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado having fun cleaning the Cherry Creek in Downtown Denver as part of 2015 Earth Week Activities.(www.facebook.com/wassup)

Participating in a community based litter clean up group has many great benefits.  In addition to making an impact on the visible trash in the environment; cleanups are great ways to enjoy some sunshine, teach your children about littering, and to make or strengthen friendships.  If you aren’t already participating in a community cleanup, they are easy to start and a great way to meet new people or build upon the relationships between those in community organizations you are already involved in.  Here are some tips to making  your own community clean up teams experience a successful one that will last for years to come.

Partnerships

When it comes to the issues of pollution, there are already a wide number of agencies in your community who are fighting the problem and they are just waiting for you to reach out and contact them.  The first place you contact will probably be the only one you have to reach out to.  Start with your towns park district office or other natural spaces office.  These government entities are dependent on volunteers to assist with many community tasks like maintaining parks, bike paths and trails.  Without the hundreds of thousands of hours volunteers give annually across the country, guests and frequent users would find these areas in a significantly different condition.  One added bonus of working with these groups is that there are often volunteer appreciation events on an annual basis or other perks like passes into zoo’s or museums based on the number of volunteer hours.  More importantly, your local park district is likely to have the materials you will need to organize a monthly cleaning event, thing like garbage bags and trash grabbers, to be used free of charge.  Many organized administrators may also have their district mapped out by area so that no one group is cleaning an area that was just cleaned the day before by a different group.  They will also likely send paid staff out to collect the bags of debris collected so that your efforts are not wasted by animals opening bags searching for food.  Many agencies will also ask for a total of hours volunteered for statistical purposes.

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Small quantities of litter have become a big problem all over the world.

Organization

When it comes to planning a clean up, being organized is very important.  If partnering with an agency like the EPA, they may have scientific data to be gathered to assist in their continuing efforts to identify areas which need greater oversight and assistance.  Such scientific data often includes specifics like, how many aluminum cans, cigarette butts or plastic particles of debris were collected.  Plan on separating the debris by recyclable and non recyclable materials. Also make sure your partner organization knows when you are having your clean up so that they can come and remove the debris that is collected. Having a plan in advance of a team gathering will be especially important.  Identifying how many persons will be needed and their roles can help in recruiting to ensure that there are plenty of people to make the work load light.  Additionally, individuals who may not be able to physically bend and pick up human debris may be encouraged to come if they understand that there are different roles like data collection or event photographer to be filled.  Photographing your cleanups is always a great way to share the wonderful work your group is doing and at some annual volunteer gatherings photos of groups in action may be shared before or during the thank you ceremonies.

Other areas of organization should include – verifying the location, having adequate gloves, waste bags and garbage grabbers for those who will need them; having a map of the area to be cleaned and setting time limits.  If your group is going for monthly cleanups, setting a limit – generally 2 hours – will encourage repeat volunteers.  It can be easy to focus on the total amount of waste in an area, by setting time limits you help minimize the risk of burnout.  By sticking to your planned area and knowing that your group has done it’s part a sense of pride will be felt by all.  If there is more than your group can manage within it’s set time, there is always the opportunity to invite friends join in and cover more ground at future events.  It is also important to remember to provide an option for post clean up fraternization.  Finding a monthly community event like an art walk, or grabbing refreshments at a local favorite provides time for both talking about the action ( cleanup ) and strengthening bonds between participants.  This will be a reinforcement that builds repeat volunteers and often encourages them to bring a friend next time.

Social Media
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Besides likes and loves of photographs, social media can be a powerful tool in many ways.  Social media allows for volunteers to find and share pictures of their wonderful experience so that friends and family will consider both the act of cleaning up after others and thinking twice about littering in the first place.  Additionally, tech savvy volunteers will not only register for clean ups, but they can also take advantage of such features such as sharing and saving the event in their personal calendars so that they get a reminder on the day of that they have something important to do like help protect the planet they love so much!  Making a page for your group can also be a fun way to stay in touch about the global issue and solutions others are creating to fight the problem.  Make sure one of your volunteers is dedicated to catching people in the act of cleaning up, as well as taking photographs of the total amount of waste being collected.  Group photo’s are also an important way to show how much effort goes into keeping protecting the nature we love.  In time you may be able to use your groups photos to generate business support such as free or discounted food at your local gathering place or to ensure important grant funding for agencies like your park district who need it very much or placing infrastructure like recycling bins where they can do the most good.

I hope these three tips will be helpful in getting your group started in this important community responsibility, taking care of the world around us!  Pride in picking up is a great way to build community, get some exercise and make a difference in the world around you.

You can learn more about the need to clean plastic and other trash from these great websites:

http://www.earthguardians.org

http://www.5gyres.org/

http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/

 

 

Issues island nations face with modern consumption practices.

Beach debris at Lion’s Park -Tutuilia, American Samoa shows the impacts of both localized littering and ocean debris being deposited on the shoreline.

In the modern era, gone are the days when whole island villages consumed all the food they needed by planting gardens, fishing in the ocean and picking food off of the trees.  With the modernization of consumption practices comes a whole new slew of issues island nations have to face.  These items can be listed in three major categories:  health, infrastructure and pollution.  Over the last 40 years as consumption practices around the world have significantly changed the way island communities interact with the world around them.

Non Communicable Diseases – Issues with Health

One of the largest problems with modernization of island communities is the overall diet that is being consumed by the population as a whole.  According to the World Health Organization, a transition has occurred from pathogen based diseases to food intake and activity based health concerns.  In the 2011 report on American Samoa the WHO reports;

“The most serious health issues relate to the increase in chronic diseases associated with lifestyle, with their roots in improper nutrition and physical inactivity. Significant increases in the prevalence of obesity, in both sexes and at increasingly younger ages, are associated with a number of these conditions. Hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, type II diabetes mellitus and its complications, arthritis, gout and some forms of cancer are among the most important chronic diseases. (http://www.wpro.who.int/countries/asm/1FAMSpro2011_finaldraft.pdf)

These dietary concerns are largely focused on the prevalence of foods packaged in metal lined plastic bags.  Prepackaged foods fall out of shipping containers like waves on a shore.  The names and varieties are as diverse as the country of origin the store owners call home.  In American Samoa, local markets are rarely operated by indigenous islanders and are instead run by entrepreneurs from places like Vietnam and China.  As part of the big picture of the problems with the local economy, this is one of the issues that many may point to regarding causes of money leaving the local economy at a catastrophic rate.  What can be said to be growing in America Samoa at an enormous rate is the wasteline of children.  With the prevalence of packaged food, the tastes of children are turning to this highly addictive, easy to consume food.  And the results are showing.  Diabetes, anemia, cancer and heart disease are all appearing as part of a modernized Samoa that are not part of it’s history and culture.  According to a guest speaker at a recent farming education event, the island of American Samoa is currently facing a 40% or greater population diagnosis of Diabetes.  This staggering statistic is supported by the American Diabetes Association

Pollution – What happens to all that packaging?

 Another part of the island life that was never part of it’s original heritage is the packaging from these manufactured goods.  Items like steel food containers, aluminum cans, plastic bottles and bags with a metallic lining are being shipped to the island and are offloaded from shipping containers by the tens of thousands every couple of weeks.  With these imported materials comes a requirement to dispose of these materials on island or export them for reclamation of the natural resources they contain.  In the case of many Pacific Island Nations with no recycling programs, the eventuality for the majority of these items is the community landfill.   For islands with recycling initiatives in place, these programs are often source separated materials – requiring individualized participation at a community drop off point instead of curbside pickup.  The need to expand collection he problem can be addressed by acquiring the next stage in technology, MRF Units.  The issue is expanding the capacity to recycle to include single stream sources like generated from public recycling containers like those found in community parks and at business locations, further allowing or even mandating by law – curbside collection that occurs in most, but not all, states.

Littering is a common behaviour in American Samoa.

Aluminum cans are littered into this hole in the sidewalk on a regular basis even though they are collected multiple times a week. This type of mentality shows the lack of education and need for local recycling programs.

What do you do when there is no concentrated focus on recycling as part of the cultural norm?  Unfortunately, as is often seen in American Samoa, where the focus of recycling does not exist – excessive littering and open burning of trash does.  This creates two specific problems.  One, emissions from burning trash are often toxic, especially when burning plastics and hazardous materials like batteries.  In addition, island based littering adds to the global burden of mitigating ocean pollution efforts by groups like The Plastic Pollution Coalition and 5 Gyres.  Due to the creation of litter on island nations combined with relatively short distances for litter to travel to reach the ocean,  much of this debris can become ocean debris as it enters streams and estuaries that feed into global currents.

With limited space to increase infrastructure, meet growing population needs and prepare for rising sea levels  expected with continued melting of the global ice shelves and glaciers; island governments will face many difficulties between balancing the population’s desires for manufactured and consumer goods and the need manage the waste stream produced by a growing consumption of these goods.  Without the implementation of infrastructure to separate and process the packaging from these goods, many governments are likely to find themselves beyond reasonable capacity in managing their island’s waste streams.

Unfortunately, even with a focus toward capturing recycling goods, there are other issues to be focused on throughout the search to develop solutions.  One reason recycling programs often have difficulty taking off is the cost of shipping materials off island.  When local businesses ship items inbound for the community to purchase, it’s easy to add the costs of shipping these items into the retail price.  However, without enhanced manufactures responsibility to reclaim or assist with the costs of shipping the items or their packaging off island, governments will continue to find the cost of shipping recycled goods to be greater than the resale value of the raw materials themselves.  It will only be with a blend of government action, education, and increased infrastructure that the combined issues of healthy lifestyles and waste management can be effectively tackled.

Don’t believe the Trump – water shortages are a reality in California

Don’t Believe the Trump!

Despite recent comments by the filthy rich and egotistical Donald Trump indicating that there is no drought in California, scientific data is here to save the day.  The truth is that there has been severe shortages in California’s water supply for a decade, and the problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

To begin with, let’s take a moment to look at where California stands today.  This is a map
shows the conditions of the water supply in California from 5.24.2016 as reported by U.S. Drought Monitor.  As you might guess, the darker the color, the more severe the need for water is.

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drought california 5-24

This data shows also shows how the trend over the last year is not going away!  There are a combination of reasons that shows why California has a water shortage.  One of these is the overall precipitation that occurs each year.  An important source of precipitation in the western part of the United States is snowfall.  Water content stored in mountain ranges provides long term water supplies through snow melt in both surface and ground water flows that have historically provided fresh water through the summer months when water is needed the most. As temperatures have continued to have a general trend of increasing over the last two decades, snowfall in the mountains has decreased.  According to this podcast, from the California Department of Water Resources (Ca. DWR)- the water content stored on April 1st is important because it’s the general indicator for how much water content will be available for that year from snow melt.  While the Ca. DWR executive report shows that currently water quantities are currently above average and greater than last years levels, this does not mean that everything is back to normal.  Temporary water surplus availability is needed to recharge reservoirs and groundwater tables which have been at historic lows.

In his speech Donald Trump also indicated that one way to solve this problem is to stop allowing fresh water to flow into the ocean.  This has been a hypothesis held by many over the years.  The main reasons this thought process doesn’t work is call Salt Water subsidence and ground water recharge.  When farmers, communities and private corporations like Nestle use wells to pump water out of the ground, replacement water is needed to replenish the supply of water.  The primary way this water is replenished is by water that leaks into the ground from nearby rivers and streams.  Without this source of water water sources would simply dry up.  In areas where these wells are near the ocean, drying up the ground water  allows for salt water intrusion, where the water from the sea literaly takes the place of the fresh water supplies that are no longer there.  This often happens because wells cause a cone of depression that brings the water levels in lower than the water table around it.  This map also shows how depleted ground water supplies can cause many wells to go dry, not having access to the water below them anymore.  In this image by the United States Geologic Survey we can see how salt water can intrude inland.  You can follow this link to read more.

gwdepletiondiagram

While farmers are often given a bad reputation for overusing the local water supply to grow their crops, the opposite is often true.  Farmers, dependent on a constant supply of water for food production often at the forefront of research and responsibility in water conservation techniques.  While it is true that open air irrigation has significant losses of water to evaporation, techniques and technology are improving these numbers.  Additionally there are many reasons for irrigation, including the recharging of the local water tables, as this wonderful powerpoint by Blaine Hanson Department of Land, Air and Water Resources University of California, Davis shows.  This powerpoint covers a wide variety of positive ways that agriculture is making strides in water conservation and brings up one very good point.  Urban communities and farms cannot compete for water.  However, it is important to recognize they are dependent on one another.  Without people to eat the food the farmer doesn’t have a reason to grow food, and without the farmer the community cannot exist.

This being said there is one major culprit of water consumption that can be avoided and eliminated completely.  The plastic water bottle industry.  In 2015 Californians learned that corporate giant Nestle was pumping millions of gallons of water out of a highly impacted aquifer virtually for free, while making millions on the water they sold!  While the International Bottle Water Association claim in this CNN Money report that it’s 3.1 Billion gallons of water placed in plastic bottles is a drop in the bucket compared to overall water use in the state, many agree that it’s 3.1 billion gallons of water that should never leave the state in the first place.  Additionally, the Pacific Institute indicates that 3 liters of water are used to make a singe one liter water bottle!   One of the best ways to eliminate the impact of plastic water in drought ridden states is to avoid buying water bottled in California.  However knowing about the global problem with plastic pollution, it’s much easier to just buy a sustainable stainless steel bottle from a reliable company like Kleen Canteen who contribute to organizations like 5 Gyres who are actively fighting issues with pollution in the oceans.

So, now you know the facts.  There is a water crisis in California.  You can enjoy the quality foods that come from this wonderful state, but understand that the drought is real.  Avoiding plastic water bottles is one way to help with drought conditions.  Cutting off water from streams and rivers from flowing into the ocean is not.

 

Water – the ups and downs in American Samoa

Fresh clean unadulterated water, there’s nothing like it.  Unfortunately this natural resource is becoming scarcer and scarcer and the years go by.  Now you have to live in the right places to get access to the best water.  As a citizen of the United States of America, I admit that I’ve grown up with the privilege of clean water to a degree that I never thought twice about it.  It didn’t matter where I lived or visited in the states, clean water was always available and for most of my life, it was free.

With the advent of the plastic bottle, this has changed considerably.  Instead of free access to water wherever one goes, water is a high profit commodity.  Virtually every store or market has plastic water for sale and this water is causing communities to eliminate their access points to free water using infrastructure like water fountains for public use.  The concept of free water from water fountains is one that many of the latest generations don’t understand.

Now corporations like Nestle are making millions of dollars and are draining the water supplies of drought stricken areas like California.  Currently there is a petition to tell corporations like Sprouts Market to stop selling plastic water bottled illegally and in places where it takes away from the needed and scarce supplies locally.

Here in America Samoa, plastic water is a way of life.  This is an unfortunate reality based on several factors, the primary being the way the islanders have tended to their natural resources.  While things are getting better than they were two decades ago pollution is still a problem here and littering is a way of life for many.  Water quality is impacted by a lack of infrastructure and for decades piggeries (pig farms) polluted the water with fecal matter that went unchecked.  Here roughly 10% of homes are missing either running water or a toilet.  Additionally, the average annual income is only $13,000 according to the CIA’s website.  So things are not very good here when you look at pollution and income.  What’s shockingly worse is that the water quality is atrocious.

Taking a look at the American Samoa EPA Integrated Water Quality 
Monitoring and Assessment Report will leave one with their jaws dropped wide open.  With approximately 250 miles of inland fresh water pathways, and about 150 tested – none were deemed safe for drinking water with pathogens being the primary culprit.  Additionally, 15 beaches were tested as unsafe for the Memorial Day weekend.    These beaches are primarily located within the inhabited portions of the island where human impact has a negative effect on the water.  Fortunately there are pristine areas where most natives don’t travel.  These are generally found at the end of mile or longer hikes through national parks land and are definitely a winner for the traveler to enjoy.  More on these beaches can be found here, thanks to Lonely Planet

So what do people on this island do for water, one might be asking by this time.  The reality is they import it.  Some have installed rain water collection systems to provide fresh drinking water, others put out buckets to collect water when it rains.  The one thing on the main island is that people don’t drink the tap water.  Instead they buy plastic bottles of water.  With the average income of $13,000 and a gallon of water costing $2.50 at the store or about $1,000 year per person at a gallon of water per day or between 4 and 6 thousand dollars a year for the average family.  Additionally, this represents a quantity of imported water from California that is staggering to quantify.  With the average case of bottled water utilizing 3 quarts of oil to manufacture and transport, the CO2 expense to supply water has some serious impacts on global climate change.

As the EPA, American Samoan Power Authority and Government officials work together to improve infrastructure hopefully we will see drastic changes in these facts over the coming decade.  But for now, American Samoa is tragically addicted to plastic water and this habit is directly connected to keeping her people in a tragic poverty cycle.  Combined with the fact that there is currently no national recycling program leaves much to be desired here in solving problems with pollution and trash management.

6 Truths to ponder

#1  The Constitution of the United States of America stands for each individual in all of the 50 states and the territories.  General American Govt classes teach us that the Supreme Court upholds these rights as part of a checks and balances system.  The Constitution is a very important document that impacts the daily lives of millions of Citizens without their attention to this fact.

#2  Water is possibly the most important resource you have.  When you don’t have clean water anymore, you become indentured to provide for the most basic needs.  Consider what it would be like to have a minimum wage of $3.80 per hour and a case of imported plastic water costing $7.00.  All of a sudden instead of tithing to God you are sending that tithe to Nestle.

#3  Each one of us has a calling in this world, a place where God would have us if we listened to all that she seeks to impart upon us.  While you might think your friends crazy for honoring the Sabbath on Saturday, planting gardens to provide healthy nutritious food for their family, or standing on a street corner in your community sending out a message of protest against the reality of the world around them, just remember that we are all given different gifts, and different callings.  There was a time when saying “the world is round not flat” could get you executed by the church.

#4  Monsanto Company is a poison company.  Yet they own the patent rights to over 90% of all corn and soybean plants grown in the world today.  These patents are to changes in the DNA of the seeds so that they don’t die from the poison sprayed on them.  This poison ends up in the processed foods we eat, it doesn’t evaporate out of the plant’s pores.

#5  Plants, including fruits and vegetables, are best known for their medical properties.  In every nation of the world natural plants exist that have been used as medicines by the elders, medicine person, Dr, and even parents in the community.  Plants are what fend off cancer, heart disease, diabetes (even though sugar also comes from a plant).  Responsible use of these plants is the individual responsibility.  Ignore your bodies need for them and illness will follow, over indulge in one or the other and another sickness or ailment will appear.  According to the the United Nations, it is necessary to retain indigenous knowledge of plants and their nutritional or medical values as our world faces continued changes in the environment based on human impact.

#6  Global Climate Change is Real.  Currently, the most significant cause of this change is consumption habits.  These habits include a dependence on oil.  Oil comes in many forms.  In addition to the obvious gasoline we burn in our automobiles, plastics for our drinks and food, floating bags in the air formerly used to transport store purchases and of course there’s a different type of oil that we use for cooking many foods.  Transportation from mine, field or manufacturer consumes even more.  At all stages in this process we emit CO2 into the atmosphere.  This CO2 also is absorbed into the ocean changing both the acidity of the ocean and the temperature.  See what’s happening in the Asia Pacific.

That was a long layover….

Well, there’s something to be said about carrying the American Attitude towards life when traveling internationally and unfortunately, I learned this one in ways I didn’t quite expect.  So after an unplanned 8 month layover, I have finally been able to begin to explore and examine the methods of civil defense and Fa’a Samoa.  To the many who have wondered where I have been, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth – but may have landed at the far ends of it.  I will apologize for the disappointment of the unexpected delay and assure all that my plans for continuing this journey have picked up as close as possible from where I left off on Sep 11, 2015.

The first thing I have learned regarding the disaster of pollution in the Pacific Ocean is that there seems to be very little respect for the land and environment by the population as a whole.  There is no national recycling program, plastic water is a way of life, and litter is a catastrophic issue.  This morning I was blessed to wake before the sun, the calls of roosters filling the air begins somewhere between 3 and 4 am even thought the sun isn’t even hinting at it’s existence yet.

The blessing is that an environmentalist and entrepreneur like myself has only need of a simple excuse to go clean up some environmental pollution.  Today my cleanup lasted about an hour and a half and netted about 18 gallons of crushed aluminum cans while cleaning up approximately 1/2 mile of roadside.  This does not include the quantity of plastics especially single use water bottles and metal lined chip bags that can be found everywhere.
Today I made initial visits to a variety of offices for the American Samoan Government including the Governor, EPA and Dept of Commerce.  Currently there are no national sustainability programs with public information, or plans under development for a national recycling plan.  However, there seems to be some private businesses and a scrap yard so, meetings in the coming weeks will provide some additional insight.

As it goes, the mental processes for conservation seem to be blotted out by packaging and collection systems in an area where burning trash is as common as attending  daily church services.  Either way, the ability to start implementing change here is based simply on the desire and ability to have meaningful conversations and real passion.  To those aspects I am grateful to be back blasting to the world and updating this process as often as possible.

 

Flying isn’t my best skillset – today’s proof is written with love… Mahalo Hawaiian Airlines

There are things that happen on the adventure and then there are things that happen and nothing can be done.  The last 24 hours is a perfect example of this.  It all started last night, when I was sitting down to book check in to my flight to leave on the next leg of my flight…. and then it happens – I realize that my inter island flight was booked 24 hours to soon and now I have to get a new ticket.  In a panic, I call the Hawaiian Airlines help desk and ask to speak to a person.  Unfortunately, during my first call, I got disconnected.  After taking a few to slow down mentally, I try again.

This time I speak to a travel agent and explain my circumstances, including the fact that i have an international connecting flight that departs at 4:30 pm.  We examine prices and determine that with a ticket change and the balance difference, my First Class flight will be about $100 more.  Since this was my mistake, I accept responsibility and pay for a new ticket; I mean it’s not like I could say no – I’m on a mission here!  After a happy dance and a few waves of anxiety I hurriedly process my check in using cut and paste features amid the packing and re positioning of my goods in their various bags.  Oh the happy life for me…

Until the good byes and thank you’s are complete and I’m all alone at the Lihue Airport… waiting standby to leave the island on a beautiful Friday morning because all flights are booked solid.  I don’t know about waiting for a standby fight when you’re on an island, headed to another island – to catch the only fight to another island where flights are only every few days…  but I’m grateful to be on the inside, and to be able to get past security into the terminal situation.  Then at least I can ask more questions and see what options might be available to me…

And true their promise, the staff at Hawaiian Airlines share the Aloha spirit with me today, even if it came at a price.  After getting to my gate I met Gabriel, a true Aloha Ambassador!  She explained to me that all flights were booked all morning and the likelihood of getting to Pago Pago today was kind of slim… as she continued to search her mighty computer Gabriel found one last ray oh hope for me – a seat became open on an island hopping plane!  But wait, there’s always bad news with these things, another change fee!  With apologies she explained the situation and what would be required of me.  Why didn’t my original ticket fly on the 11th?  I still don’t know… I’m even more baffled by the idea that I explained my situation to the gal on the phone last night and I still ended up with an inter island ticket that departed after my international flight.  Gabriel did go out of her way for me though, she made sure that my bags didn’t get sent to baggage claim on the other side of security.  They will be waiting for me in American Samoa and I’ll have time to breathe and meditate on gratitude in the mean time.  The mission of cleaning up messes made by others will be filled with opposition and hurdles.  Today I have gratitude for many things, including that this will work out in the end.  Some lessons come at a bigger price than others, today’s cost me about $175, but in a take action world – money always greases the wheels it seems.  So does kindness and humility.  Had I been rude, panicky, or otherwise unkind – things may not have turned out the same, and I could have been stuck on an island on the otherside of the world, not able to get where I needed to be.
And who knows better than me how times of trial and fire-  purify, cleanse and awaken.
So for now, this is my story on this leg of the adventure…

What I know is that right now I am going to get on an airplane, I’m leaving for American Samoa this afternoon!

It’s all about the MRF (merf) unit, A look at the potential growth of recycling in Kauai, HI.

One of the blessings of this trip is being able to have educated conversations with one of the people responsible for recycling programs out here in Hawaii.  It’s been a great warm up on this journey to reengage in the discussions of waste management that I enjoyed in the classes and interviews leading up to my graduation from Metropolitan State University in Denver, CO.  In my conversations and visual touring of places around the island of Kauai, there have been several things that point in one direction – to the effective capture and separation of consumed materials as a key factor holding back increased recycling rates.  This is a bold statement, and one many readers won’t understand off the bat; so let’s take a minute to break this down.

This is an example of solid plastic recycling accepted in Kauaii County.  Because there is no separating unit, only the most valuable of plastics are accepted.

This is an example of solid plastic recycling accepted in Kauaii County. Because there is no separating unit, only the most valuable of plastics are accepted.

One of the first things I recognized about being in Hawaii is that the types of recycling accepted is far out of proportion to what I am currently accustomed to. In the majority of North America, recycling systems accept the majority of plastics, including Styrofoam products.  The reason for this ties into several global factors.  The first is a concern about the value of shipping things in adequate quantity.  When a manufacturer or point of sale location orders product, they generally follow principles of economics where the products will be delivered ‘on time’; or when they will be needed for the purpose of the specific operation.  These quantities are required to fill demand, in this case the second concern – sufficient quantities of source separated product.  For post-consumer plastics there are many aspects of the brokerage requirements, including minimum packaging requirements, generally at minimum – one shipping container of source separated product.  This requirement is the same in Denver as it is in Kauai.

I have been pleased with the interaction I have been able to have with the Kauai Solid Waste Management representatives and the level of presence they have attained here in Kauai.  I have found many aspects of the recycling program quite interesting.  The first is that there is a Bottle Bill in place, and actually it is the last one passed in the US, “celebrating over 6.6 billion containers in the last decade”, according to the official government’s info website.  That’s a lot of plastic!

In addition to the idea that only #1 and #2 plastics are currently processed through a recycling stream,  at the county’s government building in Lihue, HI for example there are 4 separate recycling containers! They are for: a) 1 and 2 plastics only (no black plastic allowed), Glass and Aluminum, Cardboard, and Steele.  This system is designed to allow members of the community access to drop of materials should they so decide.  For businesses, this type of separation will prove cumbersome.  In order to increase the overall effectiveness of closing the loop between purchase and capture of consumable packaging single stream recycling will have to become available for this island nation.

For many, the culture of recycling on the island is becoming one that has the look and feel of a natural process.  Throughout the communities are recycling drop of stations where HI5 and other materials can be dropped off.  There are accessible containers in many parts of the community and overall the towns I have been to all have minimum micro trash issues.  It may be due to the lack of single stream systems, but I have noticed that the majority of business spaces do not have public recycling.  Businesses like the ABC Stores, banks and restaurants may have in house systems for their employees to use in the back of the house, but the access to the common public is sorely lacking.  Municipalities will find this struggle to be one that cannot be won unless the process is easy to manage – like single stream recycling offers.

In order to build this type of facility, there are going to be many steps to the process. Fortunately for the citizens, many steps of the process are well under way.  To have a closed community with both a plastic bag ban and a bottle bill is a wonderful thing to find.  Unfortunately there are battles that still have to be fought.  Corporations seeking to sell mass incineration systems regularly press municipalities attempting to convince government officials that purchasing this incineration management system is the solution to their problems.  We already know that burning anything leads to excess greenhouse gasses, something that is bad.  ( If you want to know more – check this page out – it’s great for your whole family!)

For more information on recycling programs in Kauaii, HI please check out this awesome page!

http://www.kauai.gov/Government/Departments/PublicWorks/SolidWaste/RecyclingPrograms/TheKauaiResourceCenter/tabid/108/Default.aspx

Dead white corral and no sea shells – a first observation

On September 6, 2015 I left for the “other side of the world”, to places I have never been but have read about in books and online.  The anxiety and angst of leaving the comforts of home, exhaustion from spending the last week packing over and over again, and the stresses of being in a horrible automobile accident where the at fault party could have very well lost his life had all taken a toll on me, but life and time move forward.  The process of experiencing change is very important to me.  To be in the midst of changes in the global processes means that the battlefront is exactly where you and I are at this moment in time.  According to many including 5 Gyres, our first challenge is to REDUCE the amount of manufactured goods we consume on a daily basis.  Here are some important words from “The Dude” – Jeff Bridges about this specific issue via his partnership with the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Having arrived on the island of Oahu and have been on the island for 24 hours, I have had the pleasure of touring the island, seeing many beautiful locations.  The beaches we swam in were beautiful, but turbid (cloudy/murky)   from recent tropical storms and hurricanes that have been traveling through to Pacific Ocean.  There were not large quantities of plastics or any waste on the beaches I went to.  Much of the beach had storm debris and dead corral that has come in from the storms that have been occurring. Based on tidal patterns, the north shore of Kauai is relatively immune from ocean plastic.  Today I anticipate going to see some of those beaches.  I was quite intrigued to learn about the hurricanes and had to do some research of my own this morning.  This brief article by Mother Jones will provide some greater insight to both the weather and an some of the leading agencies indicating why this trend will continue to grow. In addition to going swimming and snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean, we took a tour of some of the places on the North Shore like animal sanctuaries, recycling drop off locations including places where Jurassic Park was filmed like this scene!

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking to one of the island’s civil servants, one whom is responsible for much of the island’s recycling efforts.  With effective recycling at about 40%, with directional movement towards 70% – I enjoyed an insightful, and very tired, conversation about the issues and struggles facing creating regulations to require effective solutions that are integrated into all parts of culture.  Many of the classroom discussions from the last 2 years have popped into my head over this time.  The visits and interviews with the operators of MRF units in Denver like that of Alpine Waste.  MRF Units are where single stream recycling occurs.  This system is not currently available on most islands, but is a type of facility that more and more communities are developing, as the greater demands for reclaiming natural goods instead of filling landfills.  Here is a quick video about how these units work.

As I awoke today, I spent some early morning time to meditate on the things I have experienced.  The strongest of all yesterday’s activities was the fact that while swimming and snorkeling, I recognized lots of bleached, dead corral in the water and on the beach.  This occurs when the acidity of the water, CO2 concentrations and other factors cause corral reefs to die.  In addition to the dead corral, I noticed the lack of sea shells.  We did find 3 yesterday, ones that were on the inland side of the beach, at the farthest reaches where waters could come ashore.  The real and lasting impact of carbon emissions, waste management and agricultural processes and tourism are visible already, and the vision of the dead corral awakens me.

Heading out on a journey of Plastic Pollution, leaving the comforts of 1st world America.

In less than an hour I am leaving to face the adventure of a lifetime; one where I am leaving the comforts of first world ‘America’ where waste management infrastructure are something most people take for granted; and I am headed out to sea, to fight plastic pollution through direct mitigation efforts in the Asia Pacific.  Today as I awake, preparing to spend time with family and friends the anxiety is beginning to set in.  The idea of traveling 1/2 way around the world is a little daunting to be honest.  It’s also a little daunting for many others to process as well.  Why would some “white American” raised in a comfortable situation leave the comforts of the world to go clean trash on the other side of the planet?

We as a society tend to have an overall awe for first responders.  Tragedy tends to bring out the best in all people.  While we see a paramedic rushing to the scene of an accident, or a firefighter running into a burning building or forest there is a huge awe for those who race to the scene.  There are even more people who come into play when we look at events like tornadoes or hurricanes.  These massive forces have the ability to wipe out everything in their pathway and when it comes to populated ares, the ability to impact large quantities of humans as well.  Where larger catastrophes come into play there are always stories of the fine people who showed courage and strength in these situations.  Generally in the days following the storm, people show up to answer the immediate call.  There are needs like: finding survivors, picking up debris, and rebuilding.  Regardless of where in the world these things happen, calls for support draw out many who have the knowledge, skills or desires to be of service and help others in need.  For me, this is the most logical way to explain why I am going on this journey.

We are alive in a day and age where we are facing the largest natural disaster in the the span of humanity.  Plastic pollution is killing our planet.  Over the last week of August 2015, major news media began publishing stories acknowledging the work of scientists in London, Australia and the United States that was published roughly 8 weeks earlier.  Headlines like this one by National Geographic recognizes that the majority of sea life is already eating plastic and the quantities of oceanic life eating plastic will only continue to grow.   In past blogs I written about the Midway Atoll as an example of the impact plastic is having on the planet.   This plastic doesn’t natural come from the ocean either.  Most plastic is derived from the extreme processes involved in refining oil, and all plastic is essentially – OIL.

As one who was raised in Colonized North America I’ve always been interested in the ways we manage our waste.  Unlike the indigenous people who lived on this land, generally leaving no trace of waste behind, the populations of immigrants who have come or been raised on this land have not held the same cultural values on the natural and visual life found on our planet and in many ways have become unsustainable consumers of the oil and other resources buried deep inside.  In most cases, these resources are the foundation and focus of many corporations who’s sole focus is the development of corporate profits.  This process has brought you convoluted relationships of the mind and reality.  One key example of this is this video:
The reality of this trip is that we’ll never get ALL the trash out of the ocean.  However, in addition to reducing the amount of plastic that we consume the time has come to treat the at risk biospheres as disaster zones.  The natural life of many parts of our world are dying, specifically because of the plastic wastes we create.  From destroying virgin land to extract oil to the current situation where all forms of life, including humans, are consuming one of the permanent byproducts – plastic; it is time for some of us to mitigate our impacts.  Today I head out to answer that call.  I hope you will join me in the adventure.