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

There are no Targets in Fiji

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Littering and pesticides damage your food and drinking water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

.20160524_ca_none
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.

 

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.

https://i2.wp.com/www.aquariumtiptank.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/biorock-reef-sculptures-tedtalk.jpg
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.

 

In the beginning…

According to the oldest story known to a large portion of humanity – the earth was created and it was good.  Not so much anymore.  As we have claimed dominion over our planet, we have forgotten the importance of washing our clothes upstream of where we bathe.  It’s gotten so bad that earlier this week, a Chinese politician turned down 30,000 to take a swim in a river of China because of all the pollution in the water. Additionally, things are so bad in China that pigs are being hauled out by the thousands because of the toxicity of the water and the view of what the local biosphere looks like may represent the eastern part of America 100 years ago.

But, as American’s set environmental regulations became focused on protecting the American People and landscape – businesses sought locations where environmental accountability was less stringent.  One of the main reasons for this is your spending habits.  If you make a product following stringent environmental guidelines, it will cost more to manufacture.  Additionally paying fair American wages causes items to be cost prohibitive for daily consumers who demand  cheaper products.  These are reasons outsourcing to places like China, where environmental regulations have become a common manufacturing practice.

However not all American Businesses follow this practice or concept of doing business in this way.

Today I want to look at Method Soap.  I am providing two links today, the first one is to a story about how Method created a use for plastics disposed in the ocean.  The second is a look at who Method is.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ups/2013/03/14/how-a-company-recycles-ocean-plastic-twice-the-size-of-texas/

http://methodhome.com/methodology/our-story/we-are/

Question of the day: “What company’s are you spending your money on because of their environmental efforts?

What’s for dinner tonight?

I was riding the train yesterday, thinking about the ideas in, “The Impact Equation” by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.  What strikes me today is that I haven’t been a prolific writer over the last 20 years.  According to Brogan, it’s necessary to write regularly, because well – Practice makes perfect.  This is great for the organized non ADHD brain that is quite comfortable with scheduled activities, the kind of person that knew what was for dinner tonight, last weekend when the shopping was being done.

So I am making a commitment to more frequent writing, in order to effectively stretch my writing muscles.  That’s great, but really what does dinner have to do with any of this?  I’m glad you asked.  When I first made a decision that I wanted to promote the responsibilities of tending to our planet and avoiding fossil fuel based plastics it wasn’t because I got tired of looking at trash in my neighborhood.  I became aware that for the last 50 years, humans have been inserting deadly products into the food stream of natural wildlife, causing mass genocides of entire species, all without intention or knowledge of our actions.

In a conversation later that day, someone asked me, don’t we do enough through current recycling programs?  The answer is not at all.  In fact, I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about this.  In the Berkley, California –  Ecology Center’s website – you can read about how plastic recycling education isn’t all true, and the pretenses you and I have about recycling may be false   http://www.ecologycenter.org/ptf/misconceptions.html

Spend some time with the 5gyres institute ( Facebook, Twitter and http://www.5gyres.org) and you will learn about how bad the problem of single use plastics really is, and why it’s a problem we will never get away from.  Yes I said never, as in permanent damage that may very well out live the human race.  (More about this in future posts I promise).

Why am I ranting?  Because today, something you eat will come in a single use plastic.  And because I too am guilty of this in the last 24 hours, that plastic went to a garbage pile, placing more fossil fuels back into the waste stream.  If I’m lucky, that piece I’m guilty of will end up in a landfill where it will be buried and take hundreds of years to break down, if it ever does.  The other potential is that it will  landing on a beach or floating in the ocean for some animal to confuse with natural foods.  This will not digest well, and will probably contribute to the death of some living creature or if it does break down, the joy of additional toxins being released into the environment will be something for future generations to deal with…. (http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/how-long-does-it-take-for-plastics-to-biodegrade.htm )

Makes me want to go on a hunger strike just thinking about it all.