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. 

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Diabetes and High Blood Pressure from drinking bottled water?

Diabetes

Plastic pollution is a big deal.  Our oceans, green spaces and city streets are full of it.  Beaches around the world find plastics upon their shore, including ones where no humans live.  There are hundreds, if not thousands of species who are directly impacted by plastic in their diets on a daily basis.  Ironically, humans are one of those species.

If you are like most people you have heard of  bisphenol A  most commonly called BPA.   .  Many people know it’s bad but they don’t understand exactly how and they make efforts to shop for plastics that are BPA free.  That’s a good thing, but not all plastics are labeled effectively and BPA isn’t just found in plastic.  It’s also found in the lining of Aluminum cans and many major water supplies throughout the United States.

Fighting effective labeling of products is something corporations have been doing for decades.  One primary example of this is the cigarette industry.  While there has been a change over the last 100 years from Doctors and Actors actively supporting this “healthy habit” to education and understanding of the toxicity of manufactured nicotine to labels stating that cigarettes can cause cancer, birth deformities and more.

cigarettes are good

This is no different in today’s manufacturing industries.  According to the International Bottled Water Association, a conglomerate of corporations who profit from the privatization of water; BPA is a safe chemical for adults to consume.  They even provide links to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) papers and website while painting a rosy picture of the chemical, which has been regulated out of packaging and uses for infants while being allowed in the adult human supply chain.

Why is this an issue, consuming BPA?  According to a report in Reuters, researchers, “using government health data, they found that the 25 percent of people with the highest levels of bisphenol A in their bodies were more than twice as likely to have heart disease and, or diabetes compared to the 25 percent of with the lowest levels.”  One study that links it to diabetes also indicates; “People ingest BPA that leaches from containers into foods and drinks. Studies in the United States showed that BPA appeared in the blood and urine of 95% of people tested.”

In a 2016 study, researchers found,”The present study showed that BPA could lead to chromosomal aberrations in both ER-dependent and independent pathways at some concentrations or in cell types yet not reported. Also, BPA could probably be considered as a facilitator for some predisposed cells to be cancerous by raising the chromosome instability levels. Finally, estrogen receptor seems to have a different role in cytotoxicity and genotoxicity effects” http://www.ijmcmed.org/browse.php?a_id=335&slc_lang=en&sid=1&ftxt=1

Plastics have a history of being this great invention that has turned out to have many negative effects.  Pollution litters our planet and we now know it pollutes our body.  What is can be found as astonishing is that it takes very little plastic in your life to be put at risk for health issues.  One of the major carriers of “sick plastic” is water and soda bottles.  It’s a hot day and you want a cold beverage, so you stop in to a convenience store and grab a plastic bottle of water or some carbonated beverage.  After a few swigs and a few miles down the road, you head into a business for work, shopping or other reason.  But its a sunny day and that beverage you purchased in warming up, and so is the plastic that it comes in.  Maybe you drink some more when you get back in your car, maybe you put it in the fridge and drink it when it gets cold again – either way, you could be consuming toxic chemicals that have leached out of the bottle and into your drink.  No harm in that right?  Wrong.

Researchers indicate that, “Rate of growth and sexual maturation, hormone levels in blood, reproductive organ function, fertility, immune function, enzyme activity, brain structure, brain chemistry, and behavior are all affected by exposure to low doses of BPA. Many of these effects are due to exposure during early development (gestation and/or lactation), but effects due to postweaning-through-adult exposure have also been reported.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1280330/

This means that drinking plastic beverages can increase the age of puberty, impact the function of your brain, impact one’s fertility and more.  While these factors are scary, many people would believe that the solution is to avoid drinking these beverages after they have become warm.  While this is a nice idea, the truth is that many of these chemical impacts can occur to the beverage before we purchase them. Most of the shipping containers and semis hauling these manufactured goods from the factory to local distributors do not use cooling units, so the risk of exposure begins at the initial transport to market.

The same study also indicates one unfortunate fact – the government and businesses that use BPA don’t research it’s impacts.  From the same medical report we see this chart showing the lack of studies by corporations and government entities on the impacts of BPA.

Government /Corporate Studies on BPA

Biased outcome due to source of funding in low-dose in vivo BPA research as of December 2004.

All studies


CD-SD rat studies


All studies except CD-SD rats


Source of funding Harm No harm Harm No harm Harm No harm
Government 94 (90.4) 10 (9.6) 0 (0%) 6 (100) 94 (96) 4 (4)
Chemical corporations 0 (0) 11 (100) 0 (0%) 3 (100) 0 (0) 8 (100)

Values shown are no. (%).  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1280330/)  To back up this stance, one simply needs to look at the Coca Cola FAQ page.

What’s the solution?  There are two basic solutions to avoiding BPA in your life.  Avoid single use plastics like water and soda bottles.  In addition to protecting yourself, you will have a positive impact on the world around you.  To travel with beverages on a regular basis, purchase a Stainless Steele insulated beverage container.  Insulated containers last a lifetime and help keep your beverages cold for long periods of time.  This will eliminate any concerns about being forced to warm beverages on a hot day.  Also, you can take your insulated container and purchase fountain soda from many chain and convenience stores.

While direct links establishing the permanence of impacts from BPA in our bodies are needed, it’s clear that corporations will not notify us the general public when they provide chemicals in our environment that have negative effects on the human body.  While Diabetes and Heart Disease are just the tip of the iceberg in the potential for permanent damage to our bodies, issues like breast cancer and advanced puberty onset are known.  For these reasons alone it’s best to eliminate single use plastic water bottles from your diet, but not fresh clean water.   For more information on types of plastics and the ways they pollute our body, check out page 2 of this printable PDF from the Ecology Center in Berkley, CA.

Sources:

  1. Aghajanpour-Mir S M, Zabihi E, Keyhani E, Akhavan-Niaki H, Bagherizadeh I, Biglari S et al . The Genotoxic and Cytotoxic Effects of Bisphenol-A (BPA) in MCF-7 Cell Line and Amniocytes. Int J Mol Cell Med. 2016; 5 (1) :19-29
    URL http://www.ijmcmed.org/article-1-335-en.html
  2. Vom Saal, Frederick S., and Claude Hughes. “An Extensive New Literature Concerning Low-Dose Effects of Bisphenol A Shows the Need for a New Risk Assessment.” Environmental Health Perspectives 113.8 (2005): 926–933. PMC. Web. 13 June 2016
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1280330/
  3. Washam, Cynthia. “Exploring the Roots of Diabetes: Bisphenol A May Promote Insulin Resistance.” Environmental Health Perspectives 114.1 (2006): A48–A49. Print.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1332699/
  4. http://www.coca-colacompany.com/contact-us/faqs
  5. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-chemical-heart-idUSLF18683220080916
  6. http://www.bottledwater.org/health/container-safety/what-is-bpa
  7. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm064437.htm#regulations
  8. http://www.bottledwater.org/health/container-safety/what-is-bpa
  9. http://ecologycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/eliminate-plastic.pdf

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.

 

Water – the ups and downs in American Samoa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead white corral and no sea shells – a first observation

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

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

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

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

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://i0.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.

https://i1.wp.com/news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/08/sci_nat_plastic_waste_on_midway/img/4.jpg

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

 

No really, recycling isn’t good enough – it’s time to recognize the impact of over consumption

Yes that’s right, I said it.  If you recycle your plastic you are doing a good thing, but really it’s not enough to make a difference.  According the the EPA, currently  only 8% of plastic is being recycled.  If your plastic doesn’t have a stamp and a number on it, most waste disposal companies don’t want your plastic.  If it’s got moldy food on it, you probably just tossed that plastic into the garbage can, where it will never change form from the oil it was polymerized out of.  Going out to eat?  Did you notice how many items like straws, ramequins, and lids are made of plastic and get thrown into the waste stream on a regular basis?

No, most people who find this post will be forced to admit it –  American’s as a whole do not appear to be attentive to the levels of consumption they participate in.  It’s a hard truth to face because we Americans have been raised by the corporations around us to consume as much as possible with minimal efforts going toward reducing those numbers. This has been a business model for all of time.  Fortunately American’s only need to go back about 100 years to the creation of the National Forest Service to see examples of why a conservation method of consumption and production is necessary.  Without the efforts of the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir; hundred of ranchers, woodsmen, hunters and loggers would have mass consumed the natural resources of our land.  Instead these resources are still being used generations later – all because a conservation methodology was pressed upon them.

Recently a friend of mine posted a comment that essentially indicated that because she participated in recycling processes, mass consumption of plastic bags was acceptable.  I’m here to argue this as a falsehood.  Besides the fact that most plastics are not recycled; the act of consumption equates to the justification for manufactures to continue taking virgin oil and producing virgin plastic as a sustained and profitable practice.  Unfortunately, this practice is not considered sustainable as oil is available on a limited basis, once we run out, there is no more.  We have but one planet to live on.  Ironically, it’s also the one source for all concepts of life as we know it.  With one planet providing us with a limited stream of resources, the concept of limited consumption should be a no brainer.

Unfortunately for our grandchildren, these concepts were not passed effectively from generation to generation.  Remembering lessons from our past allows us to prepare for our future.  Only we don’t have a past where we polluted our oceans and skies while piling ‘single use’ materials all around ourselves.  In fact, the lessons from the greatest generation – about working hard, achieving, thinking outside of the box, tending to the space you are given, giving more than you were given ( just to name a few); well these lessons are falling by the wayside of I want it now and I shouldn’t have to work at it.  But, the most important of these lessons should really be about supply and demand.

If I don’t use or make purchase of plastic, I’m not generating any demand for the product.  However, when you slow your consumption of plastics, a movement is afoot.  If you and I use less oil, participate in ride sharing, public transportation and planning trips to the store; if we can begin to work with others in our community to change the way we think as a group, then we become more than a movement.  Changing your consumption habits is not going to be an easy thing, but when the day comes when birds on remote islands stop dying from plastic ingestion, the day when all plastic is recycled or depolymerized back into natural or refined chemicals then maybe we will be glad that we took time to appreciate the efforts.  If we don’t make these changes, we can’t teach our children by example.  They follow in our footsteps, replicating the behaviors they see at home.  So instead of participating in destructive behaviors toward our planet, consider the positive impact your hard work will benefit those to come in both indirect and direct ways.  Can you think of three ways which changing your consumption will benefit the planet?