Waste Not, Want Not

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This extraordinary photo by Robert Clark appears in the November 2014 issue of National Geographic.  It is part of an on going series on the Future of Food. natgeofood.com   The crew had to accurately gather all of the food according to the statistics, stage it to meet the schedules of the family, shoot it in the best afternoon light, control the dog and keep it fresh enough to donate. This included stuffing the pig with plastic bags because a pig in this state looks flat.

According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, a family of four in the United States wastes 1,160 pounds of food per year.  In 2010, the United States Census projected 32.3 million families of four.  That statistic includes nontraditional families headed by a married couple. Even though that number is shrinking,  the population is growing and that category of food loss still consumes 25% of all fresh water for agriculture and 300 million barrels of oil.  Someday!  I will become a better statistician so that I can report with deeper knowledge how large these numbers are and what they actually mean to our planet and the future of our species.  I imagine, due to the huge complexity of food production/distribution, that we may not yet have all of the data that can tell us the whole story.  (Maybe Eddie can help us).

I always find my research even more exciting, though, when National Geographic reports it. Their professional photographers, graphics, researchers and story tellers have a legacy of concise, thoughtful and compelling ways to get us to think about our world.  Like tracking a strawberry from its farm in Watsonville, California to a grocer in Washington DC!  It leaves Monday afternoon at 2:56pm and arrives Thursday night at 11:02 pm.  It travels 3,200 miles mostly along I40 because the average speed limits at 70mph are the fastest. Its on a truck that will use 720 gallons of gasoline (double what an airplane uses).  And! 25% of those berries will never get eaten.  What that trip means in its use of increasingly valuable resources is something we have to face.

Don’t miss the video below!  It brings to our attention how much our wants drive our cycle of waste and how we can change.

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/141014-world-food-day-ngfood

Ways to help:

Until next week,

Garbage Girl

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Why Zero Waste?

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If you aren’t for Zero Waste, just how much waste are you for?

Zero Waste is a movement  working to eliminate waste at the source. It uses nature’s example, where there is no waste, and seeks to recycle all materials in ways that protect human health and our environment.  With tons of waste being produced to keep our active lives humming, it sounds really hard, doesn’t it?  This movement started when waste management statistics came out showing how much waste individuals produce.  Yet 70% (statistics vary a lot) of the materials used in the manufacture of the average US product are thrown away before the product even reaches the shelves.  The funny part is that we know how much the product costs in $ but we don’t know how much it costs in resources, subsidies, taxes, and human or environmental health.  And!  Most statistics are older than 2010.

The Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976 (Google The Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976 for a nostalgic look at great governing!) required all states to develop individual plans to maximize waste reduction and recycling by a 1980 deadline. That law, which was defunded in 1987 by the Reagan administration, is still in effect and the Environmental Protection Agency is legally responsible for enforcing it.  In the meantime, national recycling rates have remained flat or worsened (just like in New York) while the number of tons of waste destined for landfills has risen dramatically.

Landfills are more than just toxic, ugly reminders of our inability to deal with waste wisely, they contain countless resources that could have been put to better use. Proponents of Zero Waste argue that we should be managing resources, not managing waste.

Zero Waste seems like an abstract, unattainable notion. But it is embraced, practiced, and accomplished in many areas of the world. In the US, cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Oakland, and states like Minnesota, Oregon, and California are striving for Zero Waste. Companies like Xerox, Sony, and Hewlett-Packard are finding that their green image with consumers improves and using Zero Waste principles helps them reduce costs..

Look who is credited for making this cool graphic!  GM!
gm-landfill-free

Ways You Can Help:

  • Consider joining the Citizens Environmental Coalition’s (CEC) “Zero Waste Campaign”  a statewide coalition of concerned citizens and groups who press the state to incorporate 21st Century Zero Waste principles into its solid waste policies.   New York City Zero Waste Campaign is located at 151 West 30th Street, 11th Floor, and can be reached by 212-244-4664  or http://www.cectoxic.org/ZeroWaste.html
  • Contact and support The Sierra Club Zero Waste Committee. They urge people to press their local governments into becoming part of the historic shift from “welfare for waste” to producer responsibility. To learn more about the Club’s work on Zero Waste issues and how to bring Zero Waste to your community, visit http://newyork.sierraclub.org/rochester/zero_waste/zero_waste.html
  • The Consumer Policy Institute is a division of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. The Institute was established to do research and education on the quality of our environment, public health, economic justice and other issues of concern to consumers. The Consumer Policy Institute is funded by foundation grants, government contracts, individual donations, and by Consumers Union. Consumer Policy Institute is located at
  • 101 Truman Ave. Yonkers, NY 10703-1057  and cane be reached by calling 914-378-2455  or http://consumersunion.org/pdf/ZeroReport.pdf
  • Google Zero Waste Eco cycle!  They have so much great information including A-Z Recycling which is a list of hundreds of products and where you can get them recycled, International, National, State and Local Groups, Educational Video, Ecocycle Newsletter, Reports and Research.

Until Next Week,

Garbage Girl

Waste Age

I know! I know its a little aud to bring home a piece of litter plucked from The Colorado River!! But I was fascinated by the travertine deposits on this plastic Gatorade bottle and I wondered if I could find out how long it had been in the canyon’s system.

Travertine deposits on plastic Gatorade bottle

Travertine deposits on plastic Gatorade bottle

Travertine is a deposit in the Grand Canyon that looks like icing dripping from the limestone cliffs. When water percolates through the limestone layer it picks up high concentrations of carbon dioxide. This can dissolve carbonate rocks in the groundwater. Once out of the ground and the water is no longer under pressure, the carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, allowing the dissolved calcium carbonate to precipitate and form striking travertine drips.   It takes thousands of years to form this surface texture so how long did it take to cover a plastic Gatorade bottle?  And was the Gatorade bottle left by humans on the land and eventually washed into the river?  Or had it traveled a very long time in the river system itself?

My research didn’t exactly answer my questions.  Or, at least, not the research I could understand!  But I learned a lot about plastic and our waterways.

According to Global Industry Analysts, plastic consumption will reach 297.5 million tons by 2015. Plastic is versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture resistant, strong, and relatively inexpensive. These attractive qualities have created a voracious over-consumption of plastic goods.   Our tremendous attraction to plastic and our behavior of over-consuming, discarding, littering and polluting, has become a combination with a lethal nature.  http://www.strategyr.com

Why Plastic is great.

Plastic bouncy can be great!

Plastic is thought of as a long-lasting pollutant that does not fully break down. Because it is a combination of elements extracted from crude oil then re-mixed in man made combinations unknown to nature, there is no natural system to break them down. The enzymes and the micro organisms responsible for breaking down organic materials don’t recognize plastic. Dr. Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist at Nihon University in Chiba, Japan spoke at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. and was the first one to look at what actually happens over time to the tons of plastic waste floating in the oceans. The study presents an alarming fact: plastic waste reputed to be virtually indestructible decomposes with surprising speed, at lower temperatures than previously thought, and as it breaks down it releases toxic substances into the seawater, namely bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer. Since the resin pellets that make plastic are round, shiny, tiny, oily and greasy (basically plastics are solid oil) they can easily absorb hydrophobic contaminants like PCB’s and DDE from the surrounding seawater.  The pellets suck up these dangerous toxins with a concentration factor that’s almost 1 million times greater compared to the overall concentration of the chemicals in seawater. All sea creatures, from the largest to the microscopic are swallowing the seawater soup instilled with toxic chemicals from plastic decomposition. We are eating fish that have eaten other fish, which have eaten toxin-saturated plastics. It makes plastic far more deadly in the ocean than it would be on land.
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32493098/ns/us_news-environment/t/plastic-decomposes-quickly-sea-study-finds/#.VDhilUuWvts

I did find a report from The Marine Conservancy http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris  that states estimated decomposition rates of most plastic debris found on coasts:

  • Foamed plastic cups: 50 years
  • Plastic beverage holder: 400 years
  • Disposable diapers: 450 year
  • Plastic bottle: 450
  • Fishing line: 600 years.

This is the Los Angeles River!!!   The USA!

Entering Jakarta

These images are saddening but they certainly do express how the buoyancy of our plastic waste is capable of accumulating in our waterways.  These and a lot more photos are on the CoastCare site. http://www.coastcare.com.au

 

Ways you can help:

  • Reduce the purchases of single use containers and packaging
  • Become diligent about discarding and recycling plastics correctly
  • Participate in a beach clean up  www.cleanbeaches.com

Until next week,

Garbage Girl

 

Waste Wise

The second I stepped onto Bright Angel Trail on my 8 mile descent into the Grand Canyon to join the 8 river guides, 2 old friends, and 15 new friends for two weeks I became an integral part of a community, and a caretaker of this international treasure.  This community includes boaters from all over the world, the Colorado River, its side streams, sand, soil, vegetation, archaeological sites, and wildlife. My river mates were a community of intelligent adults, who could be observed with their heads down, hands folded behind their backs, in focused observation of a bug making its way across a desert beach.

As a participant in this journey I became a steward of Grand Canyon National Park.  I felt the responsibility to preserve and protect the river and surrounding canyons with as little of my impact as possible. This exceptionally strong feeling is brought into clearer understanding by the guides’ vast knowledge, the 1800 million year old vishnu schist that doesn’t let you forget you are 1 mile deep in the earth’s core and the cryptobiotic soil crusts; a diverse community of living organisms such as algae, cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) bacteria, lichen, mosses, liverworts, and fungi. These crusts maintain soil stability, prevent erosion, contribute nutrients for plant growth, retain water in the soil for plants, and provide a home for seedling germination. Just one step can crush the crust, taking decades for it to recover!  It’s terrifying to find yourself standing on this otherwise insignificant looking black sand, realizing how little you know about the world around us.

The Colorado River is born of high Rocky Mountain snow.  Spring sun melts the snowpack and the water begins to flow downhill developing into streams, creeks, and rivers to form the Colorado River. After the Colorado River leaves the Rocky Mountains, it journeys into the Colorado Plateau where it picks up sediment and moves it downstream like a conveyor belt. The gradient of the Colorado River and the material it moves make this desert river powerful. In Grand Canyon National Park alone, the Colorado River drops more than 2,000 ft. over 277 miles. Over its entire 1,450 miles it drops more than 14,000ft making this region a formidable impasse to transportation crossings and the formation of the Southwestern United States.

The change from annual to daily water flows through the Grand Canyon, a regular part of the Glen Canyon Dam operations since blocking the river in 1963, have eroded beaches, reduced native fish populations and habitat, and undermined sediment support, which is an important transfer of nutrients down river, erosion prevention and delta building. Grand Canyon’s declining state is possibly the most well documented record of human impact on our environment. In addition, severe drought combined with burgeoning growth in need of hydropower has put intense pressure on the Colorado River and its canyons, species, habitats, and communities. “As reservoir levels have fallen to historic lows, it has become imperative to not only change the way we manage the river but also to reconsider how we operate dams”. unesdoc.unesco.org/images

The Grand Canyon Trust www.grandcanyontrust.org was conceived on a river trip in 1981 by adventurists who recognized the importance of protecting this public gem. 
While they have made remarkable progress in stemming the tide of threats, the canyon remains under siege. The following issues are part of the Trust’s portfolio of ongoing issues.

  • Natural Quiet: Noise pollution from flights is related to the government’s failure to enforce the 1987 National Parks Overflights Act. Noise from air tours, operations of Glen Canyon Dam, and other threats to Grand Canyon continue to impair its integrity for use and enjoyment by future generations Learn more…
  • Colorado River Management: Impacts to the Colorado River ecosystem that have resulted from Glen Canyon Dam operations, which have historically ignored science and favored cheap power generation over environmental concerns. Learn more…
  • Providing Water in the Greater Grand Canyon Region: Impacts to Grand Canyon water resources — especially its fragile springs and seeps — as a result of groundwater pumping to provide water to cities. Learn more…

 

One of my new friends, Dan Tonsmiere, is a Riverkeeper for the Apalachicola River.  Apalachicola is a historic, paradise, delta, town in northwestern Florida where oyster and shrimp boats begin their daily pilgrimages into a once seafood-rich bay.  I learned first hand how easily upriver residents can affect such a pristine picture perfect environment. www.oysterguide.com/maps/gulf-coast/apalachicola.

Riverkeepers make public resources available for local communities. Local waterways can be protected by citizen-led efforts provided with local knowledge to confront pollution in the courts, the media, and the political system. This helps prevent politically endowed industries from monopolizing the democratic process that insures our lawful rights to clean water and air and to correct any current regulatory failures.  In essence, Riverkeeper is an environmental “neighborhood watch” group maintained by concerned citizens.  Its constituents are not public officials and are not swayed by politics, but include members who defend the public use and restrict the private alienation of the river’s benefits. www.riverkeeper.org

In New York City,  we have Riverkeepers dedicated to the protection of the Hudson River and its tributaries, as well as the watersheds that provide us with our drinking water. It was the first “keeper” to be founded. Today, there are over 150 “keepers” around the globe, all members of the Waterkeeper Alliance umbrella organization. Its important to know that the public trust doctrine separates private ownership from resources held in common by the public and that we have a legal right, recognized in New York’s Constitution, which holds that the people own the Hudson River and all citizens have a right to its use, but none can abuse this privilege to degrade its use by others.  An even greater emphasis in our federal statutory system declares no one has the right to pollute public resources and everyone has the right to a clean environment.

Being in the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River brought this basic right to a unique understanding.  There is no wifi, no communication with the outside world, no planes flying overhead, you see no other people for days, no lights filtering out the night stars, no shelter, no medical help beyond the expertise of your guides, no supply replenishment, and no convenient way to get out once you get on the river.  It is the Seventh Wonder of the World for good reason.  Precambrian history is right in front of you.  Waterfalls, canyons, caves and cliffs that are a destination in any other place are around every bend of the river for 300 miles.   Everything is so big that your brain cannot register its size.  Forces strong enough to push a twenty foot raft under water are crashing in on you.  And the sounds!!!  Moving water has an infinity of different sounds that take you from primal fear to spiritual elation.

It wasn’t easy to be a good steward of this gift.  Meals were eaten by the water’s edge to prevent crumbs from attracting species that learn to live on our waste.  Walking was permitted on supporting ground and designated trails only.  Urinating was isolated to the river or a pee cup only.   Other waste was performed at night or in the morning at the “groover” and carried with us.  Camp grounds were clean and were left without any traces of us being there.  Food was prepared over tarps.  Dishes for 25 were washed in 10 gallons of water.  Personal sanitation and wellness affected the entire group.  Rocks and trees were not to be used as furniture and clothes hangers.  My ziplock bag disappeared with a smattering of toothpaste on it to become a raven’s or a rodent’s meal with the remaining bag left to exist somewhere in this pristine place for decades to come.  Ugh!!  I was inspired, though.  A person can reduce their waste to a 21″ x 7″ x 8″ container in the course of two weeks and still have 3 amazing meals a day and loads of fun filled conscious raising adventure.

All waste for 25 people for 14 days

All waste for 25 people for 14 days

Ways You Can Help

  • Learn about and support River Keepers
  • Consider making less impact on our environment
  • Take a river trip

Until next week,

Garbage Girl