Swimming in Plastic

My first airplane trip was in 1968 when I headed to Puerto Rico on a Girl Scout event. I don’t remember anything much about the flight except I was reading The President’s Plane is Missing and we went through a thunderstorm.

My next trip was in 1972 when I crossed the Atlantic. The flight was fine. I was young and the long trip did not bother me.

I took another flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1981 and I noticed something that I had not seen on the flight 11 years before. In 2010, I noticed it again…and more of it. What was it? White stuff.

Seriously, white stuff?  On the water. And no, I was told we were too high to see white caps on waves.

It was trash.

Our throw away society also is a throw on the ground society.  Trash washes into storm sewers and sometimes directly into rivers, which flow, obviously, into the oceans. Light weight trash at landfills, like the plastic bags you get when shopping at the supermarket,  also gets blown by the wind and where landfills are located near rivers, guess what happens?

So, we’ve been hearing for years now that we have floating islands of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean. Check out this video which was compiled by CNN on Midway, an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles away from population centers along the Pacific Rim.

And, in case you live in the middle of the US or along the eastern seaboard, you are not guiltless. The same problem shows up in the Atlantic, as I noticed from my jet window.  

And yet, most of the plastic in the ocean is NOT large intact pieces. Over 90% are pieces of plastic smaller than your thumbnail. Plastics floating on seawater deteriorate because of the chemicals in the water as well as the sun.  As horrible as the floating islands of large trash are, these tiny particles are even more of the problem. 

We here on the west coast are well aware of the radiation concerns about fish we consume. The meltdown at the Fukishima nuclear reaction with the subsequent leakage into the ocean makes us wary, but this is already on top of the ambient nuclear signature caused by a multitude of bomb tests on various atolls in the 1950s and 1960s.  Now, in addition to those radiation concerns, we need to be aware that fish ingesting small pieces of plastic are most likely entering our diet also.

We have all seen these photos before. Please understand that this is reality. We are not being good stewards of our planet. 

 

 

 

 

So, what can you do? From this day forward, never never never toss your garbage on the ground. Carry it with you from the beach, from the trail, from the backyard. 

Dispose of your trash properly. Recyclables need to be put in the appropriate containers so they can be reused.  Things that can be put into compost need to be. The smallest amount of our garbage should be what goes to the landfill or incinerator.

When I visited India a few years ago,  I saw first hand what happens in a society where trash removal is not a public priority. Now, the government of India is trying to overcome decades of throw-away consumerism. 

We are fortunate that waste disposal is provided in just about every area of the United States. Those people who opt not to pay for trash removal may be part of the issue, but there are many of us who just get sloppy or careless or indiscriminate.

Help model behavior that shows you are a good steward of our planet.  Reduce plastic as much as possible in your life.  Switch from plastic bags to reusable ones you carry into the store when you shop.

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First Choice: Stop Using. Second Choice: Recycling Coming

There are a few things that are part of our way of life and we tend not to think about the influence they might have beyond our need. It’s time to start thinking about those things. Zero Waste McMinnville wants to help by pointing out where we need to make changes. This is one.

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We all know Styrofoam…..it’s that hard foam used to insulate things…the inside of our walls and our hot cups for coffee and trays for microwavable food are the most common uses. Styrofoam is a trade name fora petroleum-based plastic named polystyrene.  Like Kleenex for facial tissues, Coke for carbonated soft drinks and Xerox for copiers, Styrofoam is the commonly used name, no matter who makes the product.

LIke other petroleum based products, styrofoam causes problems in our environment both in the production, use and disposal. Manufacturing the base chemical polystyrene has a number of toxic effects on workers, including irritation of the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal effects. Chronic exposure affects the central nervous system showing symptoms such as depression, headache, fatigue, and weakness, and can cause minor effects on kidney function and blood. Styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Then, we use much of it to hold food. When warm, chemicals leach out of the food container into the food. This also can result in a number of health risks.

Finally, we toss the container into the trash. Currently, McMinnville has no system to recycle Styrofoam, so it goes to the landfill.  Not only does it take up about 25-30% of all landfills, it does not break down, essentially maintaining that mountain of trash for generations or centuries…..or millennia.

Portland has restricted the use of Styrofoam but it obviously is heavily used elsewhere within the metropolitan area. Agilyx, a polystyrene recycling plant in Tigard has developed and is now installing the technology to process waste polystyrene such as packing Styrofoam and other containers.   The process will reduce it to its chemical elements so that it can be sold to manufacturers and be used repeatedly. 

Recycling polystyrene currently is economically feasible.  The process demonstrated to the Zero Waste McMinnville team at the Agilyx facility involves chopping the waste material, cleaning it, drying it, and extruding it with heat to form pellets, which can then be used for more production.

Zero Waste McMinnville volunteers are looking for ways to collect polystyrene waste and facilitate local use of a densifier, which presses the material into blocks that then can be shipped to a recycling facility such as Agilyx.  Efforts are being made to identify sources for grant money and submit an application for the needed equipment.
Zero Waste McMinnville volunteers are interviewing local merchants to identify the amounts of Styrofoam waste generated and possible collection and storage sites.  Our goal is to reduce the amount of polystyrene waste taken to the landfill by 90% by 2024.  This means businesses and households will need to take responsibility to reduce use of Styrofoam or take advantage of the developing recycling technology resources.
Our end goal, of course, is to eliminate the use of polystyrene, with its toxic manufacturing processes and by-products.  This means that we need to bring to the attention of customers, manufacturers, and businesses who presently use polystyrenes that other materials are available and more environmentally sound.

 

Alternatives, such as recycled paper, bamboo and corn plastics, are biodegradable when composted and would be diverted from the landfill. Recyclables can be  and compostibles will soon be picked up curbside at your homes and businesses.

 

Time for Vitamin D

This morning, after a kazillion years of gray skies and rain, the sun rose. And after my eyes adjusted, I wanted to be out, soaking up the rays. Getting my daily dose of Vitamin D from the source, not a dietary supplement.

This time of year even the most intrepid sunbathers have to agree that the air temperature is not quite warm enough for stripping down, but there are ways to enjoy the sunshine AND feel great!

  • Go for a walk and bring a trash bag. McMinnville rarely has trash along the streets, but it happens.  So wear a pair of gloves and pick up that trash to improve the visual appreciation of our city. Remember to sort when you get home to put the trash in your trash barrel and the cans and bottles in your recycling bin.Image result for pick up roadside trash
  • Take a look at your yard and set some goals for sunny days.  Get the rake out and clean out the leaf debris from areas where it will impede your flower beds. Pick up loose twigs and branches that have fallen over the winter. These can go into your yard debris barrel that Recology will haul away.
  • Trim back bushes and shrubs. Pull the weeds that don’t belong. Those also go into the yard debris box. What? You didn’t order one yet?  Call (503) 472-3176 or go to  the Recology Website to sign up.
  • It’s still too early for seed starts or seedlings. Basically, if it’s too cool to sunbathe, the soil is most likely too cold to help nurture growth.  But the time is coming so you might want to start them indoors or, if you have one, a greenhouse or high tunnel. Here is the OSU reference for planting and here’s the one for the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
  • You know how much better things grow if the soil is full of nutrients?  Order some compost from Recology to be delivered to your home and then mix in your gardens!  Enhanced microbial activity and added nutrients to the soil
    • Increase drainage in clay soils and water retention in sandy soils.
    • Stimulate leafy growth and succulence.
    • Promote strong root systems and build disease resistance.
    • Revitalize old soils and clean up chemical contamination.slide1.jpg

     

  • And finally, once things warm up –and they will (we’ll probably be complaining about how hot the summer is later) —a top dressing of some bark or mulch can help keep moisture where it is needed-in the soil. Recology has a variety of products to customize your beds.landscape-banner.jpg

Enjoy our Willamette Valley weather, however it acts. It’s all good!

Getting Older…..But Wise Choices Can Start WAY Younger

On cold damp mornings in our Oregon winter I often am reminded by my aches and pains that I am no longer a spring chicken. The years have taken a toll but also provided a lot of insight that younger, more spry people may not have gained. And yet, I am encouraged by how many young people ARE catching on that changes need to be made. And sometimes, just sometimes, it is a step back.

We love our technology. Most of us carry our mobile phones with us, feeling naked if we leave them at home. Those of us who remember the original Get Smart shoe phone are amused (and challenged) by the multitude of apps that new cell phone provides. I grab it often to check my email, post an appointment on my calendar, make notations of my driving for work. Sometimes, I even make phone calls.

Technology brings us wondrous advances, but sometimes, it creates a bit of a monster.

My first baby will be celebrating his 33rd birthday this week and would be chagrined to find out I am talking about how I diapered him, but it is time we do that. Not him, specifically (phew!) but the choice made by millions of parents to use disposable diapers presents us with a mountain that will not disappear in our lifetime. Nor in our babies’ lifetime and even their grandchildren’s lifetime. The ease of taking that sodden mess and putting it in the trash has to be balanced with the hassle of washing cotton cloth to use and reuse and reuse again. Long after that baby is toilet trained, those cotton cloths can be used and reused as rags.  And when it is time to retire them, they can be composted, where they will return to the soil.

One of the best gifts I received when my first son was born in 1983 was six months of a diaper service. By that time I saw we could save money by washing them ourselves instead of renewing the service, and so, we used the cotton. Not to say we never used disposables, but they were for car trips and vacations when access to a washing machine was restricted and the aroma was not able to be contained as well.

However, technological advances have offered even more options since my now 22-year-old was born in 1994. Now there are disposable diapers that can be flushed down the toilet and get broken down in wastewater treatment plants with other human waste. There are also compostible diapers but some brands are better than others.  For more info on choices, check out this blog.

And guess what, it basically boils down to cotton is still the best option if you have easy access to laundry facilities.  The cost of clean supplies is less with cotton and the cost to wash them, while considerable, is less than the cost to dispose of flushables or compostibles that have plastic.

That is the personal cost benefit analysis, but when you look at what your community deals with, it becomes more evident that the discussion has to be made that technology is not the winner here.

This is a representative (clean) pile of the disposable diapers one baby will use.  If that doesn’t make an impact on the decision making process for parents who consider themselves to be green, then perhaps the consideration of how long the used diapers will take to decompose may do the trick. 

So, the choice is clear. Can we invite you to join the club?