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.

 

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.

HB 15-1144 – Plastic Microbead Legislation – Did Colorado add Greenwashing to the list of legislative priorities?

Today Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 15-1144 a ban on solid synthetic microbeads added to cosmetic materials like face scrubs and body washes!  This bill is designed to keep tiny particles of plastic out of our waterways and local biospheres because of the negative impacts of plastic in these locations.   Colorado joins a variety of states, the first being Illinois, who are banning these microbeads.  In Illinois, efforts to introduce scientific legislation was attempted by members of the 5 Gyres Institute and the Ban the Bead Campaign.
Scientifically there are two primary problems with microbeads in our waters.  The first issue is that plastics are made with binding agents that  seep into the water when issues where the plastics leach chemicals into the water impacting the quality and purity of water.   The second issue is that these plastics are often viewed as food and are then consumed by insects and fish where two serious impacts occur.  Since plastic does not get digested by animals it accumulates in their bellies, filling up space for nutrient providing foods.  This accumulation causes a lack of space for real consumable, nutrient rich materials while leaching into the body of the animal that has consumed it.

Banning microbeads is a noble and valuable activity that should push regulations on corporations and manufacturers to be accountable and responsible for the materials they create and the environmental damage they do.  The scientific facts speak for themselves, microplastic is bad for the environment.  The Wisconsin Lakes Partnership dedicated the first three pages of it’s Fall 2014 newsletter exclusively to this topic.

The unfortunate truth is that the corporate lobby built a loophole into the rules they are placing upon themselves.  They introduced the legal terms of “Solid Synthetics” and “Nonbiodegradeable” as the specific type of plastic that would be banned.  There is scientific concern about this verbiage based on the fact that truly biodegradable plastic must have microbial breakdown.  This breakdown is only found in commercial or “hot compost” facilities.  In their 2015 publication in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, Michigan State University student’s published a study concluding:

“anaerobic and aerobic biodegradation are not recommended as feasible disposal routes for nonbiodegradable plastics containing any of the five tested biodegradation-promoting additives.” (Selke et all – 2015)

There are dozens of journal articles and news pieces that support this thought process leading educated consumers to understand that purported bioplastics are still going to enter our waters, causing deadly toxins to enter Colorado waters, causing the same concerns for bioaccumulation that  has proven to exist in our waters.  As this piece by Mother Jones from 2009 explains; “Real biodegradable plastic should be sent to a commercial composting facility, where it will spend its final days being eaten by microbes. But here’s the catch: In 2007, only 42 communities nationwide offered compost collection. (Seventeen were in California.) And though some biodegradable plastics can be recycled, no curbside recycling program will take them.”
The unfortunate part in the current movement to ban microbeads is that this effort is being led by corporations who wish to regulate themselves so they have the control and upper hand.  In an earlier post, I commented on how Johnson and Johnson, as well as other entities showed up to Colorado House Committee Meetings to introduce soft legislation that would offer a consistent level of legislation they could manipulate in order to have “consistent legislation”.   These organizations are already phasing out these plastics from their products., but want to allow for the weakest levels of legislation to be enacted.   This process began with Unilever in 2012 and has gained momentum as you can read about in this post on Beat The Microbead’s page.

This is exactly what Director of the 5 Gyres Institue’s predicted would happen in a 2014 EcoWatch Article stating “According to Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute, plastics industry lobbyists worked hard to block it, wanting legislation more like the far from ideal bill that passed in Illinois. The Ilinois bill leaves a loophole for plastic, like Polylactic Acid (PLA) the so-called biodegradable plastic that corn cups are made of. Unfortunately, PLA doesn’t biodegrade in the environment, it requires an industrial composting facility.”

And this is what has happened here in the state of Colorado.  Colorado HB-15-1144 bill specifically states:.

4) “SYNTHETIC PLASTIC MICROBEAD” MEANS AN INTENTIONALLY ADDED, NONBIODEGRADABLE, PLASTIC PARTICLE MEASURING LESS THAN FIVE MILLIMETERS IN SIZE   INTENDED TO AID IN EXFOLIATING OR CLEANSING AS PART OF A RINSE-OFF PRODUCT.”

This is exactly the actions that have been predicted by many environmentalist groups, that the efforts of the science community to curtail the effects of microplastics would be mitigated by corporations who originally fought microbead legislation so they would have the opportunity to craft and create looser regulations that would present “Greenwashed” material information that would weaken future efforts to protect our water.  Colorado is known for being a state that has fought hard to protect our waters and this bill is an unfortunate example.

The reason is very simple.  Biodegradeable plastics have not been proven to biodegrade in cold water settings.  According to Brenda Platt, coordinator for Sustainable Plastics Project:

  “Truly biodegradable plastics are plastics that can decompose into carbon dioxide, methane, water, inorganic compounds, or biomass via microbial assimilation (the enzymatic action of microorganism). To be considered biodegradable, this decomposition has to be measured by standardized tests, and take place within a specified time period, which vary according to the “disposal” method chosen. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) has created definitions on what constitutes biodegradability in various disposal environments.”

What this boils down to is sadly is that  that Colorado’s Microbead ban, HB 15-1144 is a piece of greenwashing legislation presented by corporations who are willingly removing certain types of plastics from their products – ones they already agree to take out, while  having consent to pollute in a slightly different way that still has negative impacts on our environment. The bill, is a bill with solid foundations.  Unfortunately, it happened so fast that even those individuals in the community that tried reaching out to the bills writers didn’t get an effective chance to effectively communicate the scientific realities major corporations were able to step around in the writing of this bill.

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of solutions that already exist!  Besides avoiding purchasing products that already include microplastic, consumers are advised to look for exfoliating products that include natural or real plant products that are effective exfolliants.  Common materials include oatmeal, apricot or peach pits and walnut shells.  These products are already commonly found in supermarket shelves.

Colorado introduces Microbead Legislation HB 15-1144

Plastic pollution is a growing global concern that continues to draw attention from around the world.  One of the greatest reasons plastic pollution attracts so much attention is that it can literally take hundreds of years, even thousands of years to break down.  Over the years many scientific organizations have examined the impacts of plastic pollution on our waters and the life within.  These studies have covered everything from the impacts of ingested plastics on fish to how plastics leach chemicals into our bodies like Bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor that has similar impacts to estrogen in both humans and animals.

One of the main reasons that our planet is filled with plastic is that there are minimal restrictions on a global level to regulate the recapture of plastics around the world.  In the United States, many states attempted to regulate the manufacture and recapture of used plastic bottles through the use of a legislative measure called a Bottle Bill.  These bottle bills required a deposit, or small fee, at the time of purchase.  The manufactures would then be held accountable to ensure that the materials The concept required the consumer to incur a financial liability in order to encourage the return of the empty packaging in order to receive the money back.  Many bottle bills were opposed by the manufactures, who gathered together to form the Beverage Consumers of America, a lobby organization who fought against end user responsibilities based on the premise that it would be to expensive to manage these materials.
In a general way, manufacturing companies are consistently known for their unwillingness to hold themselves liable for the impact of materials they sell once consumers have disposed of them.  This problem, when it comes to plastic, has become so great that some scientists like Dr Marcus Erickson of the 5 Gyres Oceanic institute have recently come to the understanding that there are more pieces of plastic in our oceans than stars in the sky.  Among the efforts of the 5 Gyres team, the effort to eliminate Plastic Microbeads has not been a short lived effort.  The first win was when the state of IL passed the first ever microbead legislation, banning plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products by 2017.

On Monday Febuary 9th, I learned that the State of Colorado would be presenting it’s first ever legislation on plastic microbeads.  Without any hesitation I knew I had to be there!  For the last 3 years all I have been talking about is plastic pollution across our planet and my personal actions have included eliminating the purchase of Bath and Body Works pump soaps, an item I had been handing out as presents to friends and family for years, simply because they contain plastic microbeads.   My investment in this topic has included presenting to the Colorado Water Board as they held open roundtables regarding the efforts of developing a State Water Plan, providing an opinion that microbeads should be banned as part of the state’s developing plan.

Going to the Colorado State Capitol in and of itself was quite an experience.  The building is beautiful and has an extensive history within, including being made of the only Red Marble known in the world, which comes from Bula, Colorado. I had little trouble find the room I was seeking, so many Sargent at Arms in their green jackets.  The capitol is a warm building and the basement room in which the house committee met had windows in which the sun warmed the room.  The environment was pleasant and by the time Representative Premavera was called in I was starting to get a feel for the procedures of the day.

The thing that shocked me most in her testimony and introduction of the bill was the fact that it was sponsored by Johnson and Johnson, a company that makes personal care products full of these plastics. I watched as a variety of preferred expert witnesses came forward representing various organizations like the Manufactures Association, the Denver Waste water District, Colorado Water Board, Johnson and Johnson and Cosmetic Producers Association.  As each came up they had brief prepared statements describing their support for the bill, and how they were actively looking for uniform laws across the states to make their jobs easier.  They justified the low levels of financial penalties, the timeline of delay and the specificity of limiting the use of plastics in their specific items.  Each was asked a few questions from varying  House representatives.  During the entire time I was taking notes on a copy of the written text of the bill I was able to scrounge up ( love those Sargent’s at Arms).

After the preferred testimonies, the floor was available to those who chose to sign up and do so.  I had shown up, having spoken about plastics and micobeads at many different events over the last 36 months, including roundtable meetings regarding Colorado’s State Water Plan.  I introduced myself and my position as a student at MSU Denver and as the senior club president of the Water Association of Student Stewards Urban Program.  I explained that I was there to testify on behalf of Water, yes that is what I said, I was there to represent myself on behalf of Water itself.  I did not have a prepared testimony, and I apologized to the representatives as I had received short notice on the presentation but was experienced in the topic.  I responded to the idea that this was a corporately sponsored bill, that there were no expert scientists presenting data on bio -accumulation of plastics, the resulting impacts to fish, hydro accumulation of other toxins that accumulate by attraction and a plethora of other factors that would surely solidify the import of their support.  I explained how the industry at one time was fighting these exact bills and were, quite honestly presenting a very soft version of legislature that allowed for future use of “biodegradable” plastics was an open loophole they had written in.  This loophole is dangerous because the same factors of leaching from unregulated plastic ingredients are already causing significant impact on our environment.  I made commentary on how the fines are minimal compared to profits available and how the IL state bill was significantly tougher on companies than the bill that was presented today.

In the end, I provided a rebuttal answer to each of the questions the preferred witnesses had not answered in a way that was as complete or full as I believed a scientist would have.  And at the end of the day, I testified on Colorado HB 15-1144 in the House Committee furthering my resume and experience as an authority on the topic.  In addition, I was able to make some network connections.  It was my first formal experience in front of a state house committee in the capitol, and the only way I could ask for a more gratifying one is if you act right now to pledge to eliminate microbeads from your consumer goods today.

The Midway Atoll – an example of Plastic’s Destructive Power

The oceans make up 70% of the surface area of our planet and support a wide array of life on our planet.  The beauty and splendor of this life has drawn the adventures of the world to seek the areas of greatest beauty.  One type of this beauty is known around the world as corral reefs, the most famous of these is the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.  The dangers and damage of human impact has often been a topic of great discussion for many, especially for those in Australia that have watched these changes over their lifetime.  However, not all our corral reefs get such attention.  One example is the Midway Atoll, a circular corral reef that circles Midway Island.  After the end of WWII, where Midway Island was the scene of a week long battle to secure this ‘Midway point’ between Hawaii and Japan, the area was turned into a natural wildlife preserve.  For the Albatross that call this island home, the assurances that man would not be a regular interference must have been a nice change.  According to a recent NPR Article, Albatross are one of the most faithful animals on Earth, taking up to 15 years to decide on a mate and stay mated for life.  According to the same article, these birds also raise young for many years, one of note was raising young at 62 years old!  While this is an amazing statistic, there are some scary things to be concerned about when we examine what this far away location look like up close. https://i2.wp.com/farm7.staticflickr.com/6088/6128493158_24904ca3f3_z.jpg

From afar, the Midway atoll can generate images of beauty and relaxation, the idea of clear waters and sandy beaches could generate images of rest and relation for many.  Unfortunately, things aren’t as beautiful up close as one would prefer – the culprit is of course man made materials that have been carelessly discarded to have a second life as the materials of death for many forms of life.  These materials are of course – PLASTICS.

Plastics, first created in the 1850’s, quickly became a manufactured good that when discarded; entered the waste stream with little concern or flair.  These materials entered, as did much poorly managed waste over the last 150 years, landfills and garbage barges.  These landfill barges, like the ones discussed in this previous blog, took garbage out to sea, sometimes as close as 3 miles out to sea.  What happened next is that these wastes began to travel the world’s oceanic currents.  These gyres, mechanically broke down many of the materials, especially those that were of organic material like food wastes and paper.  Unfortunately, many of the items could not break down in the currents.  These materials travel the currents and travel around the globe.  Some of the plastics break down by photo degradion, the sun and salt water breaking down the chemical bonds.  At the same time these plastics return the favor, releasing chemicals like formaldehyde, asbestos, BPA and DDT into the water.  Additionally, the plastics don’t really go away, they just break down into smaller pieces of themselves much in the way rocks break into particles of sand.  The plastics that don’t break down, they float around the world until landing on a beach somewhere.   This is the case for the Midway Atoll.

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Images like the one above, are often far from the mind of the common consumer as we purchase an ice cold bottle of soda on a sweltering day, leaving the lid of the bottle where it lands in the parking lot.  What we don’t realize is that the sudden rains that come in overnight pick up that bottle cap and deposit it into the storm-water system where it’s carried directly to an outbound water system.  Eventually, it is likely that this plastic will find it’s way into a major river system where it will then travel into the ocean.    The problem is so common that earlier this month an article was written about a theoretical boat being designed by the Dyson family, that would vacuum plastic and other pollutants out of river waters before they enter the ocean.

 

Why would someone want to clean the rivers of plastic?  It is estimated that tens of thousands of pieces of plastic enter our oceans as former land based pieces of pollution or consumer goods on a daily basis.  We know that these estimates are true by viewing studies of both the gyres themselves, and looking at pictures like those here.  Each of these pieces of plastic, containing unknown internal contaminants is bringing its own forms of destruction on the planet.  In far away places like the Midway Atoll, these plastics bring real damage.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) have found that of 1/2 million albatross born in the Atoll- 200,000 die annually due to plastic consumption.  Adult birds may know how to stay in a committed relationship, but the introduction of plastics into the environment did not come with a clear cut instructions not to eat.  What happens is that from the point of hatching, plastic enters the food stream.  All to often this means full bellies with no room for healthy nutrients to develop strong bodies and bones structures.  Photographs like this one from Chris Jordan bring the starteling truth to light.  Unfortunately, the Midway Atoll has been littered wiht such carcases for over a decade.

 

On a recent study of Freshwater Seafarers off the mainland near Tazmania, Australia – Dr. Jennifer Lavers discovered that 16% of hatchlings were fed plastic.  She also hypothesis that these plastics are poisoning the birds with heavy metals and other contaminates.  She also highlights in this blog how she pulls over 400 pieces of plastic out of one Albatross on Midway.  Because these areas of contamination are far from human existence, they are often forgotten about.  Fortunately, there are those who are interested in keeping this, and many other formerly pristine areas of the planet in the best condition possible.  Once such crew pulled over 14 tons of plastic from the Midway Atoll in 2013. You can read more about their efforts here. Upon seeing this much plastic pollution, maybe you will consider making significant changes in your consumption patterns today.  While the average reader will not believe it to be the case, just one refillable water bottle can reduce plastic and oil consumption by as much as one barrell per year!  Other things that you can do to help eliminate this pollution is to learn about your communities recycling regulatons and become an effective recycler of post consumed items and always, always carry a bag with you so you can say no to a plastc one, each and everytime you go shopping!

James Morioka, Kerrie Krosky, Kristen Kelly, Tomoko Acoba, Kevin O’Brien, Kerry Reardon, Edmund Coccagna, Joao Garriques, and Russell Reardon (clockwise from upper right) pose on April 18 atop the large, 13,795-kg pile of derelict fishing gear and plastic debris collected during their 21-day mission at Midway Atoll. NOAA photo by Edmund Coccagna

 

Boyan Slat has a great idea, but I don’t believe his claims are realistic

Have you heard that a 19 year old has made a presentation about cleaning up plastic from our ocean? If you haven’t I have to tell you that this Ted talk is worth watching. If there is one thing I hope you walk away with from watching his presentation – its  that you contribute to plastic pollution without thought or intentionality.   His video  a real problem for our planet. I hope that you are so moved by this young mans ideas that you begin to realize how big of a problem we have made by the thoughtless ways we are habitually destroying our planet.

Does Boyan Slat have a good idea?  YES, YES he does.  His idea is amazing, use the motion of our planet’s oceans to clean up the mess we have made.  Sounds good to me.  Is the idea to clean our planet in a manner of 7 years realistic? No, not really.  The first and most basic reason is that the time to build his theoretical machinery could take a decade just to build.   There are some concerns in how machinery could remove plastics that are known to be suspended up to 90 meters below the ocean.  An additional concern for this particular project focuses on the dangers that occur when you add physical materials directly to the ocean that weren’t there to begin with.  In the case of the plastics themselves, we already know that they leach chemicals into the ocean.  How would a new material added to the ocean impact life?  One answer is that life will begin to develop under and around the introduced product.  We know this is true because there are multiple examples of efforts to build and grow habitats using man made structures.  Below is one such example, from attempts to regrow corral reefs in Florida.  This blog from the Scuba Divers Travel Network discusses many areas regarding the efforts of rebuilding the reefs as well as many global concerns for our oceans.

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But the truth is, I don’t believe this solution is the end all be all to ‘saving our planet’ from ourselves. I don’t think that this well intentioned and idealistic man really intended to misrepresent his ideas as an end all solution to plastic pollution in our oceans. Unfortunately, this is what has been happening.  Because I’m into telling people about plastic pollution in the ocean, I often feel that I’m the first person that people run to when they first hear of this concept idea.

The truth is, that it would  take a massive fleet of ships, ones that are stationary – one that are actively moving about our gyres to clean them.  If you have followed my posts you know that there are reasons for Plastic warriors to  unite!  The reality is that all of our planets oceanic systems are being clogged at the arteries with plastic and we are approaching a time when active remediation will be required for life to survive.  These sad truths are represented in studies like this one by Dr. Jennifer Lavers, shows that birds are not only eating plastic, but that they are becoming weak from the leaching of contaminants into their bodies.

As a person who daily preaches the dangers of our addiction to plastic, I have been aware of the problems facing our planet and I communicate them regularly in all I do. I ask the waitress or bartender to not bring straws to the table, or to be used in a beverage delivered to the table. I bring my own bags to the store, or I grab used bags from the recycling bin. In fact there are many times that flat out refuse a bag, or specifically request paper bags.

But that’s my story about my personal activism.   In my experiences, the majority of people don’t really think about how we consume, or what happens when this consumption is over and the materials end up outside in a rubbish or recycling bin.  In an earlier blog I discussed the advantages of setting up a second waste can for recycling.  Those who do find that this one act changes both their awareness and effective recycling rates!

Why do we want to change these rates?  Because materials consumption is at a rate greater than anytime previous in our history.   This poses problems as we are consuming materials at a rate greater than our planet can support.  The cost of industry is pollution.  This pollution comes in the form of CO2 emissions, foreign materials in our water supply, spills and fires from oil.  This trend isn’t going to end any time soon.  This is why it’s so important to recognize that each individual action we take today, impacts the ability for us to fix things in the future.

 

My experience making a video for the 5 Gyres Viking Crew Entry

I entered a contest hosted by The 5 Gyres Institute back at the end of March.  The point of the video was to try to win a 10,000 scholarship to go on an expedition to study plastic pollution on the planet.   I’m not in the running as a top 5 candidate.   I can think of several reasons, one being that I didn’t plan out my video well.  One of the things I keep learning in my business classes at Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado is that no one person is expected to produce all aspects of the business by themselves.  The process of thinking should be based upon the early recognition that operating in a business environment is a team aspect.  With my idea to make a video, one of my weaknesses was in developing a team to help me produce a video of quality.  Instead I attempted to learn a self written script, one that kept formulating along the way and memorized it.  I took a selfie video, something I have never really done before, and practiced live with each clip to become comfortable speaking with the camera on.    This wasn’t an easy process, and quite honestly – my final video took over 200 attempts before I made a copy I was content with.

After that, I began to play with YouTube and learned how to add text boxes to the foreground of the video.  This is one of the places I think I made some of my biggest errors.  I used the free version provided by Google, and it didn’t have many options.  I was only able to write in white.  With time I learned how to make sure all my words were in screen, and that the video didn’t look slopply.  Unfortunately, my experience includes one unfortunate aspect.  The video I uploaded to the contest site was, unfortunately, not the final version I had made.  This was a sever dissapointment as anyone could guess.  Fortunately it was also an exercise in learning!  I didn’t make the best movie, but I am proud of the fact I entered the contest.  Plastic pollution is a global concern that continues to show signs of plaguing our planet.

How do I know this?  It’s not from doing a internet search and just finding the scientific journals of most recent data being done at educational institutions around the world.  While some entities, like The  5 Gyres Institute are able to catch the attention of news media during times of tragedy both mechanical and environmental, the most recent of those being MH370 of course.   The advantage, if it can be called such, is that in an attempt to find anything in our oceans, we become aware of the quantity of pollution that has accumulated in our planetary systems.

Here’s a copy of the video I made

Now, I haven’t given up, I am still seeking votes to occur on a daily basis.  Realistically, I would love to round up the 10k and just pay to go on such an amazing expedition.  Maybe next year.

 

“It’s been a long semester” or “If I don’t write something soon I may never get back on the horse!”

It happened.  Not only did the 1950’s Adam West Batman Series pop into my head as I wrote the title,  but this blog is happening because I haven’t written a blog in close to two months, and internally I miss it.  The thought popped into my head about a week ago, with 3 midterms to go and no desire to focus on anything, I buckled down on the things that were most important, maintaining my concerns for sustaining my GPA, proving that hard work is worth it, regardless of how weary you get.  So I’ve been plugging away at life, paying 6 professors to dictate my days, and ensure that I processes some of what enters my brain.  And so, after weeks of watching myself put this page on the back burner, I’m getting back on the horse.

What’s happened in two months?  Well, besides taking 6 classes at university this semester, family life, and all the fun of 12-14 hour work days may good things have been happening.

The best of these is that I met Dr. Marcus Erickson of 5 Gyres Institute.  As a person who wants to change the way the consumption impacts pollution, and how plastics are polluting our oceans this meeting was amazing for me.  I have spent much time researching and learning about topics like enhanced manufacturer responsibility and conversion campaigns.  These are exciting topics that I hope people will look into.

But really, if I don’t keep writing – nobody’s going to go looking for anything.  Let this be a lesson, it’s easier to stay on task, with regularly consistency than it is to try and rebuild a habit.

Thanks for coming back to see what I’m doing.

I will write again soon