How the Philippines disaster from Hurricane Haiyan will highlight problems with material recycling.

Hurricane Haiyan was hitting the interwebs as it’s oceanic pathways and expected approach to land predicted the one of the worst environmental events in modern history.  Now that it has hit and global communications are exposing the real damage of this storm, the world is witnessing one of the worst events in modern history.    According to a blog by Dr. Jeff Masters, this hurricane is  the strongest hurricane to hit land in recorded history and the worst in over 50 years.  In the coming days the news will cover nothing but this hurricane, and the world will unite to support the  100’s of thousands that will have a catastrophic change of life having survived the event.  In reality this support is needed.  The spread of disease due to dead bodies, the need to clean debris, to sort natural resources and waste, to reestablish an infrastructure and provide food sources, machinery, medical care and most importantly consumable water.  Agencies like the Red Cross, who have already sent support teams, are fundraising and the world is looking at this disaster with compassion and heartache.

This is a good thing, for people in our world to tend to the needs of those that don’t have – especially in times of dire troubles.  The sad thing is that as our populations continue to grow, the impact of weather events will continue to worsen.  There are several simple truths to be examined that will help put this into perspective.  First of all, it is proven that people are drawn to live in areas of mild climates, with fresh water and bountiful food sources.  According to a newscast by CNN, Florida is a perfect example of this fact.  Some data from the video – if a storm the size of Hurricane Haiyan hit the state of Florida, over 11 Million people would be displaced due to flooding in a state that produces over 1 billion dollars worth of food each year.

It puts things into an interesting scope for me because I have been on the teeter-toter lately with the feasibility in instilling change in humanity’s capacity to react to the environmental remains of such a tragedy.  News casts are already reporting the ‘need to take care of the living’; which is a true and necessary component of surviving a tragedy.  Having been in and out of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina I know how slow the recover process is.  The mass scope and level of reclaiming the ability to reuse land effectively continues to be a struggle in Haiti as this Nation still struggles to rebuild amid the lessons of ‘effective humanitarian aid’ do’s and don’ts.  If you are unaware, this blog from Jezebel.com provides some great insight to the real tragedy as Americans have unintentionally polluted and caused more harm in the inability to process excess waste products, primarily due to over consumption, but also out of good will.  It was the Haiti event that most recently pulled so many together, seeing such devastation so close to home.  This is I believe, the biggest event with loss of life in a single day in my lifetime.  I say that very specifically because, with the waste of humanity strewn about everywhere, diseases- especially waterborne, are going to be a prevalent issue of concern in the weeks to come.
In addition, the timeline of cleanup must be prompt and swift.  Our military will be moving in to assist,  and one of the fist and most necessary requirements is that the bodies be removed.  In such a temperate zone, decay is rapid and will cause the spread of human and waste borne diseases rapidly.  To complicate these matters, metal, plastic, wood  debris will be mixed within making these areas necessary for quick remediation or habitats for mosquitoes will quickly increase and the spread of disease like Malaria will spread.  In addition to insects, the debris poses a special problem – a mass amount of it is not made of natural materials.  In this island nation, where will all the garbage go?
My opinion is that many of these masses of materials will end up as ocean pollution.  Besides the masses of material that washed out to sea, much of the material currently clogging streets, all the stuff of society – will be stuffed in a landfill, maybe even have a new one created in the middle of the jungle.  Either way, the one thing that you won’t see happening on a grand scale – recycling.   As we globally prepare to handle circumstances of the environment, humanity needs to find or create greater ways to manage cleaning up the messes we make through consumption.

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!

How you shop is important, it is already changing the world.

When recycling was beginning to be a requirement on a national level, there was much ado about how it was all going to work.  People all over this country were involved in the idea that what they were doing was important and would be useful for generations to come.  How recycled products would be labeled, what types of material were to be used to be ‘post-consumer’ content and at what percentages.  What is post consumer waste?  What percentage of post consumer product could you use, was it safe?  What would standard be?  Who would enforce this?  Does the Federal Government have a responsibility to do this?  Do they have the right?  A lot of work was put into the entire process.

And yet, according to the EPA, only 7% of the plastic that is created – gets recycled.  For some really good reading the 1990 report to Congress by the EPA titles,”Methods to Manage and Control Plastic Waste“.  In the meantime understand this – as a species we suck at cleaning up after ourselves.  And this my friends is creating a massive problem for our world. These problems are not just land based problems like, “our landfill is full, can we send our garbage to yours?”  While this happens all the time in the Midwest (garbage from cities like Chicago travels out of the city and even into Wisconsin.   Unfortunately, not all states have space where they can send their trash.  So what happened to all the garbage from a city like say, New York when there is no landfill space?  They took it out to sea, an activity that eventually ended in the 90’s.

ARE YOU OUTRAGED?  You should be.  Just in case you didn’t catch the earlier point, let me repeat it for you.  The City and State of New York authorized barges of trash to be sent out to sea.  A practice that is known to exist for over 100 years.  You and I can be sure they aren’t the only ones.  This might not have been a major issue at first, however since the creation of plastic in the 1850’s, we have been throwing it in the ocean.

So now we have organizations like 5 Gyres Institute  who are seeking to understand how the ocean is impacted by this trash and promoting, like this author, to increase recycling methods while reducing the amount of plastics we purchase.  Unfortunately the problem has become a beast of it’s own as we have come to discover that there are more than 5 major garbage patches in our oceans.  The main ones are flowing along our worlds major oceanic currents, known as gyres.  These ocean currents are so strong and regular that the water carries everything that we throw in them.  Greenpeace published a whitepaper sometime in the last 5 years titled,” Plastic Debris in the Worlds Oceans.”

What can I do?

The point of all of this is simple.  You purchase plastic on a daily basis.  There truly is no way around it.  Companies have concluded that you won’t do anything about it in the form of not purchasing their products and that articles like this will provide you with awareness that you will soon forget to act upon as soon as your hunger or schedule gets in the way.   The first thing that each of us can do is to make daily decisions to “Cut The Plastic out of our Lives”.  Demand manufactures use post consumer products, that virgin plastics are labeled effectively, and remember it’s how you spend your money that speaks to companies the most.  Stop purchasing products that are not made with the environment in mind, especially individually wrapped products.   Buy in bulk, and send your kids to school or daycare with smaller plastic storage containers.  Encourage recycling at work, places you shop, and demand it in your home.   Maybe you are seeing this information for the first time,  it’s ok if you weren’t educated about all of this before today.  What matters is what you do from here on out.  To quote G. I. Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.”

Your parents may have been hippies – but they made a difference

April 22nd is Earth day and you can thank your family for that the next time you sit down for dinner.  Why, well it wasn’t that long ago America was really sucking on an environmental basis. So a while back a bunch of hippies decided to get together and have a celebration of the place we live, this planet that well call home.  Whippie!!!

But no, really. This is a big deal and those hippies, well they were your parents or grandparents.  Why?  Well what you probably don’t realize is that in America the place was beginning to look like a landfill.  After WWII, the government went through a process to downsize.  One of the bureaucracies that were cut from the picture was a national recycling program.  Many of your grandparents probably still remember what it was like to take newspapers, soda bottles, aluminum and all kinds of items and turn them in, many times for money.  This is how they got to buy dollies and baseball gloves when they were children.  They worked for it because their parents taught them how important it was to tend to the things we had like beautiful land and clean water and healthy food that was grown so locally that much of the time you could walk outside in your bare feet and pick it.

These values are the kind that have (ideally) come down from generation to generation.  Unfortunately, in any society, this is only a representative of a portion of the population.  Corporations were still corporations and without regulatory oversight it doesn’t make sense to be responsible to the planet at the expense of the bottom line.  It’s the kind of attitude that says, if I’m not told something is wrong – it must not be wrong for me to do.  And devastation was laid out on the countryside.   Eventually,  major city beaches were being closed due to pollution, waterways caught fire due to chemical and oil spills and masses of animals were  mutating and dying from unnatural changes to their environment.

So our parents, and grandparents, they did something about it.  Earth day rallies, like those of civil rights and women’s suffrage actually did make an impact.  The disasters that were befalling our country were visible to the naked eye and people cared about it.  They thought about you and me and our children.  They didn’t want to leave a legacy that was shameful, deadly and horrific.  So they took action.  They made cities build waste water treatment facilities, (before it often went from toilet to river to tap in the next town).   They banned chemicals like DDT and They cleaned up most of the messes they made.  They set rules into place that said, what we did was not ok – and nobody should be allowed to do this in the future.

And here we are in 2013.  While human waste is cleaned before entering the waterways, mass quantities of factory farm waste is not regulated.  Instead of filling our waterways with oil and chemicals we are loading them with a different chemical that is producing the same results in killing off biospheres of natural wildlife – plastic.  While air pollution standards have made visible skies in major cities a reality, we are now burning Tar Sands Oil- which is producing double the amount of carbon-dioxide standard crude oil emits.  And instead of boldly declaring the atrocities of big industry, news agencies are now owned, operated and invested in the entities they are supposed to be holding accountable.  This month the FAA declared an American NoFly Zone because an oil company (and the government) doesn’t want bad press to negatively impact infrastructure plans that are bad for our country.

So does Earth Day mean anything to you?  Will the sacrifices and values of those that wanted you to have a clean planet encourage you to make changes in your life, to stand in unison with one another over real issues and to hold big polluters accountable not just with the click of a mouse button but with real action? Please I encourage you to take the time to consider – what kind of life are we leaving behind and begin making simple changes like bringing your own bags to the grocery store, riding public transportation and more importantly write your representatives and hold them accountable to standing strong on issues that matter to you.

Most importantly, if you have children – on April 20th (Saturday) show them what Earth Day is about by spending time outdoors, learning about or doing something special, they will only learn what you pass on.

Just say no – Plastic Warriors Unite

“Plastic, plastic, plastic – Is that all you ever talk about?” a friend recently asked me.  Well no I like to talk about other things, like my love of music, Jesus and volunteering.   However I have to ask, what’s the point of changing topics if you don’t ‘get it’ when it comes to plastics?

I thought I had made a good point, I mean how many crusades can one person take on at one single time?  If you and I went around solely participating in the process of evangelizing on the problems with life and the world around us, how quickly would we burn out.  I think the answer is obvious – it would take some days, others a few weeks, but eventually it would happen!

In today’s world plastic is everywhere.  Go out to eat, plastic.  Eat in, plastic.  Shopping, driving, worship, vacations, airline flights, school lunches, household chores the list goes on.  PLASTIC IS EVERYWHERE. Here’s a video on bottles…

Wow, that’s a bit overwhelming.  So what can you do?  The answer isn’t easy, and quite honestly sometimes it’s difficult and can offend others.  Yesterday, for example.  My brother-in-law stopped at McDonald’s for water.  Choice one – a plastic bottle and plastic lid filled with water, shipped and transported into Colorado.  Option two – paper cup with Plastic lid and plastic straw.  I was thirsty but opted out because option two wasn’t really provided to me, it was here’s a plastic bottle of water.  Not perfect, but there was a delicious cup of water from the tap waiting for me when out got home, only problem… I’m drinking out of a plastic cup.

Today, I will continue to take plastic out of the trash and put it in the recycling containers, speak awareness and live simple changes that will reduce my imprint on our planet.    What steps are you taking to ‘cut the plastic’ from your life?

The Future is Now!

People ask, what do I do or, more realistically what I want to do. My answer is simple. I want to help us all be better stewards of our planet. Actually I want to physically clean our oceans, and you should want me to be successful. As a race, a species of animals if you will, we humans have done some horrible things to the planet and to one another. However, our growth is at a point where it’s harder to behave in ways that are harmless. Every part of our societies from first to third world countries, there is an impact of our technology and advancement that is known as plastic.

Many people think, well I recycle – isn’t that enough? I know this is: the stories about our planet and how much is prevalent in the food steam of wild animals is quite disturbing. Over the weekend, news reports flooded the views of a sperm whale that ate plastic sheeting and many other items. Regularly, animals are found deceased from malnutrition because they have been eating plastic.

As parents and guardian’s of the next generation of humans, we are protective of what our children eat. We advocate for the quality of life our food has, preferring to not support inhumane treatment of our livestock. Factory farms, lead, chromium – these are all common place danger words for most.

When it comes to the future of our world, and life upon it, action by each human is necessary. Reducing the quantity of harmful pollutants means buying less plastic, strengthening our recycling laws and continuing to develop ways to effectively divert all plastics away from the waste and single use streams. Additionally, taking daily action by using public transportation, planning purchases in ‘one run trips’ and in home conservation efforts like turning down the heat (or air conditioning), using water efficient toilets and shower-heads all make significant differences.

If you’ve been reading along from the beginning, you know I advocate a 2 garbage can system. What ways to you ensure you Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle efficiently?

Sperm Whale Dead in Spain http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/08/spain-sperm-whale-death-swallowed-plastic
Pollution in our Deep Seas http://www.theplasticfreetimes.com/news/13/02/28/litter-found-deep-sea-survey
The Great Garbage Patch http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/03/20133911393486789.html
5 Gyres Institute http://5gyres.org/what_is_the_issue/the_problem/

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.

It’s Fat Tuesday – What are you doing for Lent?

So,  it’s Fat Tuesday.  Lent is right around the corner and many people are on social media talking about what they are going to give up for Lent.  Some of you may not understand the purpose of giving up something, ‘For Lent’.  While there are many different  ‘beliefs’ behind the Religious and Dogmatic essence of what Lent, and it’s physical precursor Mardi Gras, is all about, one thing is generally considered true, most people miss the point.   In my own words, I’d suggest that the Christian faith allows us to take a time to consider the trials and temptation of Jesus, and the sacrifice he made as the atonement of mankind’s sin.   Deviations from the spiritual concepts of Lent are clearly represented in the festivities of Mardi Gras, closing with Fat Tuesday – a specific example of the gluttony of human wastefulness.  For those that are come from a different culture, Lent started as a Christian memorial that generally covers 40 days (to represent the temptation of Jesus by Satin fora period of  40 days in the desert) and concludes with the celebration of Easter Sunday ( the resurrection of Jesus from the dead).  Many of the days themselves have been given semblances of historical value and others contain aspects of their historical value that has now been lost on the modern world.  For example, Fat Tuesday was a final day of gluttony and ‘fattening up’ because in the tradition of Lent, people would fast for 40 days and would need the extra fat in their systems to help them survive.

Regardless of your personal spiritual beliefs, you are probably aware of the concept of giving something up as a way to become more aware of your personal habits.  Every New Years we often make a commitment that we are going to do things differently.  Those who have a personal drive or spiritual commitment to making this kind of change are generally those who have the successes we all can admire.  They also have an accountability base to promote their own success.  This is why these things work, accountability. I think for those that practice the giving up something , or fasting,  for Lent the accountability is often more on a personal spiritual basis; with the support of family and friends as encouragement when times get tough.   Today I want to be your encourager.  Do you remember the first challenge I asked you to consider?  Yes, the one with two separate garbage cans one for recyclable materials and the other for trash… how’s that going?

What about Lent?  What will you be giving up?  Besides turning away from processed foods, I myself am going to attempt to give up 50% of the single use plastic I currently use.   By cutting out any plastic bottled beverage of any kind, and focusing my diet on whole, fresh fruits and vegetables (known as a Daniel fast).  I hope to allow two paths of my spiritual walk to combine.

Will you join me to ‘Cut The Plastic’ over Lent?’  I look forward to the conversation in the comments section!

http://www.theplasticfreetimes.com/news/13/02/11/plastic-free-lent-interview-gabriel-lamug-na%C3%B1awa

http://5gyres.org/posts/2013/02/12/fat_tuesday_equals_fat_plastic_in_new_orleans

Homemade Gifts – Valentines day is a week away

About a week ago, I asked a couple of friends (and hopefully continued readers)to give me some ideas regarding concepts of posts they would like to see.  As I was contemplating their ideas, I realized that Valentines day is a week away!  Now, I don’t know about you, but I am a do it yourself kind of guy.  I love to make cookies from scratch for Christmas and give them to friends and family as my expression of love and community.   I buy sugar eggs and flour in bulk sizes in paper packaging to be as contentious as possible and I try to plan ‘baking parties’ so that the sense of community and the holiday spirit are flowing.

Crafting projects can be like that to!  Gathering friends, or kids, together to make items that will be given to others combines the fellowship of community in so many ways.  Teaching children the value of reusing items, creativity and conservation at the same time, just adds value to the family ties!

If you haven’t already planned your children’s valentines gifts yet, will you consider some of the ideas here? I look forward to the stories of what comes forth!  Please post your experiences in the comments section!

http://www.planetpals.com/recycle_holiday_crafts.html#valentinesday

http://spoonful.com/crafts/recyclable-projects

http://www.funinthemaking.net/category/valentines-day/

Happy Crafting!!!