“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!!!

 

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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.

 

5 reasons Denver’s proposed plastic bag fee has potential

According to a report on CBS-Denver, “Denver City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega has proposed a five-cent fee for every disposable bag used at grocery and convenience stores in the city limits.”  Under the current proposal 60% of this fee would go to the city while 40% would go to vendors.  The estimates of combined generated revenues according to CBS-Denver is in excess of 6  million of dollars!  While many will consider 2 million dollars in handling fees an excessive cost, and a potential ‘tax on the poor’; I would like to propose that there are at minimum five reasons why ‘Plastic user fees’ are of value.

1.  Plastic pollution is a real and present danger to our environment.  Researchers at the 5 Gyres Institute have found significant evidence that plastic pollution is a global issue polluting the natural homes off both land, sea and air animals around the globe.  In a lab project for 7th to 12th graders indicates that some bird colonies have as much as 80% of their populations that have consumed plastic in their diet.

2. User fees are proven to change consumption patterns. According to an interview by NPR’s Michel Martin, Michael Bolinder of Anacostia Riverkeeper indicates that plastic bag consumption went from over 22 million bags on a monthly basis to about 3 million.  Community governments around the country are seeing the reduction of single use plastic as additional fees encourage citizens to modify consumption patterns and incorporate more conservation minded practices into their daily lives.

3. Single Use plastic bags have low plastic recycling demand.  Consider that while many grocery and chain retail locations provide recycling collection of single use bags, curbside recycling does not.  Because the plastic density and composition of these bags there is little demand for this grade of plastic.  This limited demand means little to no profit margin, and can actually be a financial burden to waste management which is why these plastics are restricted from community recycling programs.

4. Plastic does not decompose.  Instead it behaves like rock in that it breaks down into smaller portions of itself.  Plastic is made through a chemical manufacturing process called polymerization, and is designed to be a lightweight alternative for manufacturing, storage and transportation costs.  Unfortunately, the only way to convert plastic back to natural materials is to reverse manufacture them via a process called depolymerization.  Studies by the 5 Gyres  Institue show how plastics of all sizes are contaminating oceans and beaches around the planet as well as all five great lakes.

5. Plastic is made up of oil, a primary source of single use consumption on the planet.  A report by Friends of the Earth states, “Humans today extract and use around 50% more natural resources than only 30 years ago, at about 60 billion tonnes of raw materials a year”.  This includes increasing levels of oil consumption globally that has pushed for the expansion of environmentally dangerous sources of gas and oil collection like Bitumen Tar Sands and Hydraulic Fracturing.

So while the current proposal before Denver’s City Council may not be the version that gets a final vote, I hope that you will agree that the prospect of such an action is a timely and responsible course in environmental responsibility.  If you are not already in the habit of bringing reusable shopping bags, your family and friends may  thank you, plus think of all the money you will be saving once the fee’s begin!