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Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July

Before you toss those bottle caps....

Credit:  http://midwestern-darling.tumblr.com/image/35541563855

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Baltimores Water Wheel - Cleaning the Waterways

I was inspired to see a story of a waterway becoming cleaner, so I would like to share this story with you.  In Baltimore, there is a Waterfront Partnership Initiative that is tasked with a "cleaner, greener future for our neighborhoods, streams and harbor"  called Healthy Harbor

They have developed a water current and solar powered Water Wheel to clean up their harbor:

Water Wheel

Graphic credit:  Healthy Harbor

Harnessing the power of nature to help keep the Baltimore Harbor clean

The Inner Harbor Water Wheel uses a combination of old and new technology to harness the power of water and sunlight to pick up litter and debris flowing down the Jones Falls River. 
The current of the river provides power to turn the water wheel, which lifts trash and debris from the water and deposits it in a dumpster barge.  A solar panel array provides additional power to keep the machine running even when there is not enough water current.  When the dumpster is full, it is towed away by boat and a new dumpster is put in place.

Where does the trash come from?

Trash comes from people who throw litter on the ground instead of putting it in a trashcan or recycling bin.  When it rains, water carries litter off streets and into storm drains, which flow unfiltered into neighborhood streams.  These streams carry litter into the Baltimore Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Jones Falls begins as a stream in Baltimore County and is fed by other streams until it becomes a small river in Baltimore City.  Although much of the river is hidden beneath the Jones Falls Expressway, the Jones Falls Watershed is much larger than the river.  A watershed is an area of land that all drains to the same body of water.

They have a lofty goal of wanting to put their Water Wheel out of business - by having people be more responsible about their waste, and to make their waterway fishable and swimmable by  2020.

You can learn more about the water wheel in this NPR report. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

What is "Plastiglomerate"? Not the Legacy We Want to Leave

A new material called plastiglomerate has been discovered on Hawaii's Kamilo Beach. The rock is the result of melted plastic trash on beaches mixing with sediment, basaltic lava fragments and organic debris, such as shells. Shown here, a type of plastiglomerate called clastic, found on Kamilo Beach.
Credit: Patricia Corcoran.
According to the EPA:
Plastics play an important role in almost every aspect of our lives. Plastics are used to manufacture everyday products such as beverage containers, toys, and furniture. The widespread use of plastics demands proper end of life management. Plastics make up almost 13 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than one percent of the waste stream. The largest amount of plastics is found in containers and packaging (e.g., soft drink bottles, lids, shampoo bottles), but they also are found in durable (e.g., appliances, furniture) and non-durable goods (e.g., diapers, trash bags, cups and utensils, medical devices). The recycling rate for different types of plastic varies greatly, resulting in an overall plastics recycling rate of only 9 percent, or 2.8 million tons in 2012. However, the recycling rate for some plastic products is much higher, for example in 2012, 28 percent of HDPE bottles and 31 percent of PET bottles and jars were recycled.

Just the Facts

  • 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2012, representing 12.7 percent of total MSW.
  • In 2012, the United States generated almost 14 million tons of plastics as containers and packaging, about 11 million tons as durable goods such as appliances, and almost 7 million tons as non-durable goods, such as plates and cups.
  • Only 9 percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2012 was recovered for recycling.
  • In 2012, the category of plastics which includes bags, sacks, and wraps was recycled at about 12 percent.
  • Plastics also are found in automobiles, but recycling of these materials is counted separately from the MSW recycling rate.

How Plastics Are Made

Plastics can be divided in to two major categories: thermosets and thermoplastics. A thermoset solidifies or “sets” irreversibly when heated. They are useful for their durability and strength, and are therefore used primarily in automobiles and construction applications. Other uses are adhesives, inks, and coatings.
A thermoplastic softens when exposed to heat and returns to original condition at room temperature. Thermoplastics can easily be shaped and molded into products such as milk jugs, floor coverings, credit cards, and carpet fibers.

So what is  Plastiglomerate? Plastiglomerate is the first type of rock formation influenced by humankind.  It is the fusing of man made plastic to rocks.   So far, it has only been found on Kamilo Beach,  a remote Hawaiian island known for its accumulation of plastic garbage, due to the currents of the ocean.  It is likely in existence elsewhere.

According to LiveScience:
Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem affecting every waterway, sea and ocean in the world, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. First produced in the 1950s, plastic doesn't break down easily and is estimated to persist in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years. Plastic debris is also lightweight, allowing it to avoid being buried and becoming a part of the permanent geological record.
How can we help this not happen?
  • Consider and re-evaluate your use of plastic - especially single use plastic. 
  • Make sure your garbage makes it into a secure garbage can, so it doesn't end up in an waterway.  
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"One day in the future, people can look at this material and use it as a marker horizon to see that in around 2010, humans were polluting the planet with plastic," Corcoran said. "But that's not a legacy we really want."

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Excess and Trash - A Review of the Book "7: An Experimental Mutiny on Excess"

A few months ago I picked up a book on a whim.  It was on a special offer for my kindle, and the description of the book intrigued me.
7: An Experimental Mutiny of Excess - By Jen Hatmaker
7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.
So I will admit - this is not my typical book.  I'm more of a chick-lit kind of girl.  My time to sit and read is limited, so I mostly choose light books that let me escape into the carefree lives of the characters.

In any case, the author lured me in within the first few pages.  It is a casually written book  that reminded me of emails my friends and I might exchange.  At times I thought she tried a little too hard to be funny, but then sentences later, she grabbed me with deep thoughts about the values of America, and how it relates to modern religion.

Each month she and her family took on an "excess"  and stripped down to the bare minimum.
  • Month one they eat only seven foods
  • Month two they only wear seven articles of clothing
  • Month three they rethink their possessions 
  • Month four is a media fast
  • Month five  was a focus on waste (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)
  • Month six focused on spending
  • Month seven was a focus on stress and simplifying day to day life
She realized many things along the way;  We are incredibly lucky to live in such a rich place.  But our richness also seems to come with greed waste and misplaced values.

With some help she planted a garden that produced a good amount of vegetables and fruit.  She found that donating unwanted items directly to organizations that could use them (Think homeless shelter - instead of Goodwill), she felt a better connection and fulfillment in her giving.  She realized that today's consumption is undermining the earth's environmental resource base.

Hatmake has quite a following of readers.  I was quite happy to see her rethink disposable water bottles and embrace buying items from local sources.  Her family bought an more environmentally sound vehicle, and are now trying to reduce their waste footprint.

I appreciated that her book called on religious leaders to take care of the earth.   I also liked how she seemed to not be afraid to roll up her sleeves and serve those who were lacking resources and needed help. 

In short - if you are looking for a book that both playfully and thoughtfully looks at how you love more sustainably and less wasteful,  this book might be a good read for you. It was (at least to me) an interesting experiment that showed we can all do just fine with more thought and less waste. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

20 Positive Steps to Celebrate Our Earth

Today is Earth Day.  It is the one day a year when everyone is encouraged to treat our earth kindly.   Today,  I encourage you to do something kind for our environment:

  1. Reduce - do you really need it?
  2. Refuse - You don't really need it!
  3. Reuse - You got it?  Use it again and again.
  4. Recycle - After you are done with it - Recycle it.
  5. Upcycle and/or repurpose
  6. Get outside - relish the wonder that is nature
  7. Go to a farmers market (with your own bags)
  8. Remember to use your reusable cups / bottle
  9. Bake something from scratch
  10. Plant a garden
  11. Install a rain barrel
  12. Ride your bike to the store
  13. Plan your errands to reduce driving
  14. Turn over that paper and use the back side
  15. Set your printer to two-sided printing
  16. Take old batteries to be disposed of properly.
  17. Ditch the paper towels for cloth. 
  18. Take a shorter shower
  19. Consider products like LUSH - solid shampoos with no packaging!
  20. Try very hard to stop using disposable products, even just perhaps one.  
Want to learn more about Earth Day?  Attend an Earth Day event.  Roseville has one on Saturday in Mahany Park.   Come by The ReCreate Booth and make a boat from "junk" and see if it sinks or floats!

I leave you with this quote from John Muir:
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
 We only have one earth.  Let us take care of it every single day.