God of the North at my Subway Stop

The A and C trains have a transfer for the G train at Hoyt Schemerhorn.  The G train gets me within a block of my home.  I am one of those subway riders who calculate the best location to stand for the shortest walk to the exits.  So, every day I stand next to this tile column waiting for the train to arrive and the doors to open.  One day, during a longer wait than usual, when there was nothing else one can do except wait and entertain oneself, I looked a little closer at the surface of the tile.  There he was!

 

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

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More Precious Now Than Ever Before

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Since 1916, The National Parks Service has been preserving the natural beauty of our country’s diverse environments, educating us about their value and protecting them from the negative influence of industrialism and capitalism.  The NPS is charged with the dual role of preserving the ecological and historical integrity of the places entrusted to its management, while also making them accessible for public use and enjoyment.

Climate Change is easily experienced in our National Parks.   In response, the National Parks Service created the Green Parks Plan to directly record the causes and effects. The plan’s “call to action” details goals like being energy and water smart, committing to buying green, and making the grounds themselves more sustainable.  By dedicating themselves to direct action, The National Park Service is taking another big step in their goal to maintain and protect our most precious resources.

In 2015, the National Parks Services decreased water use by 13%, diverted 50% of its waste away from landfills, and decreased energy emissions by 11% .

Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke,  cut spending at the department by 13%; meaning 4,000 fewer employees at NPS, 3,800 positions cut at the EPA, and 2,000 fewer jobs at the State Department.

Zinke, during a meeting with oil executives, described these reductions as career bureaucrats who were obstacles to his plans for widespread drilling.  He went on to state that these employees were disloyal to the nation itself.

During this time of harsh changes in the way America was devotedly taking care of its resources, a look to the future is a must.  If we need to give away our most precious resources in order to maintain our lifestyles, then we need to ask ourselves what is gained by choosing to reduce ourselves in this way.  This could be a time where we get excited about shifting our wants and desires to better match our ability to live happy, productive lives.

Once the extraction industries take control of our Public Lands, the most remote places on earth will go away.  Martin and I will be joining our friends, Stuart and Mike to cross-country ski Yellowstone National Park this winter.  We consider this a once in a lifetime experience to be in a natural setting with natural sounds, natural smells, natural light, and a natural sky over our heads.  Nature will do what it wants with us.  We will get to experience what that feels like.

When I returned from rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, I found it very challenging to return to the same wants and desires I had three weeks prior to that special experience.

When Martin and I picked up the plastic littered in Jamaica Bay, I couldn’t see plastic ever again as a miracle to modern living and our convenience.

Take a moment to reflect what brings happiness to you.  Challenge yourself to break free of the routines you developed.  See yourself with the potential of that person before you became part of “The Race”.  This time is so much bigger than us.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

From Cup To Car

Image: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Coffee gets us started every morning.  Now it gets your car started too.

With help from Shell Oil Company, bio-bean, a company that has been collecting London’s 220,000 tons of annually spent coffee grounds, put their new biofuel into the gas tanks of London’s famous double decker buses.  By partnering with large coffee shops like Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero, a steady stream of grounds will produce enough fuel to power a city bus for a year.

On the American front, Mano Misra’s , Susanta Mohapatra’s, and Narasimharao Kondamudi’s study has been published online in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.  Written by Mark T.Sampson, they report that waste coffee grounds provide a cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel fuel.  They found that spent coffee grounds contain between 11 and 20 percent oil by weight, which could add an estimated 340 million gallons of biodiesel to the world’s fuel supply.

In 2016, about 143.22 billion gallons of finished motor gasoline (a complex mixture of relatively volatile hydrocarbons with or without small quantities of additives, blended to form a fuel suitable for use in spark-ignition engines) were consumed in the United States.

The new “B20” coffee-based fuel smells like java and has the major advantage of being more stable than traditional biodiesel; due to coffee’s high antioxidant content.  Solids left over from the conversion can be converted to ethanol or used as compost.  The biofuel is 20% coffee oil, while the rest of the mix comes from fossil diesel.

Biofuels burn cleaner than fossil fuels, releasing less carbon into the atmosphere, but the production and harvesting of plants destined for fuel (like corn, wheat and sugarcane) can cancel out the benefits.  Using waste products—like coffee grounds—to create fuel minimizes damage to the environment on the production end, and reduces overloading of landfill.

Through a partnership with Argent Energy, many households in the UK have begun to use this in their homes.  This is a technology I want to hear more about.

Put Put Put Off You Go

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Black Mayonaise

What Exactly Is the Black Mayonnaise at the Bottom of the Gowanus Canal?

Photo by Susan De Vries  by Craig Hubert

There are numerous mysteries about the Gowanus Canal. But the most baffling, not to mention terrifying, is the thick dark sludge that makes it way through the oily waters, that which has been called black mayonnaise.

Aside from its gross name — which is a pretty good descriptor, to be honest — there has rarely been an acceptable explanation of what black mayonnaise is, exactly, and how it is formed. So we reached out to Christos Tsiamis, the EPA’s Senior Project Manager for the Gowanus Superfund cleanup, and asked him to explain.

gowanus canal black mayonnaiseA core sample from the former First Street Basin near the BRT Power Station. Photo via EPA’s Gowanus Canal Facebook Group

Black mayonnaise is the “result of chemical waste that was discharged from the industries that operated along the canal as well as by New York City sewage and street runoff,” wrote Tsiamis in an email.

“The combination of the chemicals and sewage gave the sediment the soft texture of mayonnaise, while the combination of liquid tar from the manufactured-gas plants, petroleum products (such as motor and lubricating oils), decomposed organic matter and sewage gave to this sediment its black color.”

gowanus canal brooklyn superfund sitesPhoto by Hannah Frishberg

A 10-foot-high layer of black mayonnaise lays over the original native sediment at the bottom of the canal. But is it dangerous?

The answer is a resounding yes.

“It contains a multitude of chemicals (in the dozens) many of which are toxic and dangerous to human health upon repeated exposure or from consumption of fish that is caught at the canal (or at close proximity to it) over time,” wrote Tsiamis. This was determined by a risk assessment study conducted by the EPA in 2010.

Will the cleanup cleanse the canal of black mayonnaise forever? Two months of dredging, starting in December, is expected to permanently clean the bottom of the canal, according to Tsiamis. Meanwhile, the Gowanus’ two new underground holding tanks are expected to keep a good part of sewage and street run-off from overflowing into the canal during storms. “After the storm passes, the liquid held by these tanks will be pumped for treatment to the city’s treatment facilities,” he said.

Tsiamis says these measures will free the canal of black mayonnaise forever. But the EPA will be checking every five years anyway, just in case the substance inexplicably returns.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Earth Rights

Bolivia feels the challenge of Climate Change as snow capped Andes recede and water becomes more scarce

Bolivia’s “Law of Mother Earth”

“We believe that we cannot survive on this planet if we fail to see that human life cannot exist outside of nature.”

The Bolivian law that defends Mother Earth as a living system grants her a presence in a legal framework.  It is an important ideology that should be considered globally.

In highly urbanized areas, the built environment does a remarkable job of masking the resources that allow all forms of life to continue their existence on this planet.

As human populations grow, the majority of human activity will take place in urban areas.  Overcrowding brings traffic and exhaust, water quality and quantity issues, food shortages, air pollution, and a variety of natural disasters that destroy infrastructure and disrupt lives.   These issues can bring unrest, displacement, homelessness, war and death.

Bolivia’s law reestablishes deeply indigenous concepts concerning Earth within a political and legal framework.  It is a model for prioritizing the health of our planet and it should be configured into every nation’s environmental policies and sustainability goals.

The Law of Mother Earth outlines Seven Rights this planet is entitled to:

  1.  Life.  Maintenance of life systems’ integrity and the natural processes which sustain them, as well as the conditions for their renewal.
  2. Diversity of Life.   Preservation of the variety of beings that comprise Mother Earth, without being genetically altered or artificially modified in their structure in any way that threatens their existence, functioning and future potential.
  3. Water.  Preservation of the quality and composition of water to sustain and renew life systems and protection against contamination.
  4. Clean air.  Preservation of the quality and composition of air to sustain and renew life systems and protection against contamination.
  5. Equilibrium.  Maintenance or restoration of the inter-relation, interdependence, ability to complement and functionality of the components of Mother Earth, in a balanced manner for the continuation of its cycles and the renewal of its vital processes.
  6. Restoration.  Effective and opportune restoration of life systems affected by direct or indirect human activities
  7. Live free of  contamination.  Preservation of Mother Earth and any of its components with regards to toxic and radioactive waste generated by human activities.

The Law of Mother Earth will be exacted into policy via five strategies:

  1. Incorporation a prevention and managed response to natural disasters.
  2. Agricultural risk management to prevent diminished crop yields and food insecurity.
  3. Adopt risk management for disasters and climate change.  Develop informational networks to issue early warnings during natural crisis. Assist the agricultural industry and indigenous communities to plan according to climate conditions.
  4. Strengthen territorial management of organizations, public lands and any other local governmental bodies through the incorporation of risk management and adaption to climate change.
  5. Articulation between public and private scientific research sectors to share knowledge and co-ordinate research regarding vulnerabilities related to climate change.

Bolivia is dependent on the glaciers in the Andes mountains as a reliable water source.  Their disappearance has severe and dangerous consequences forcing people to face the challenges of how and where to access clean water. The New York Times, “a World Bank report concluded last year that climate change would eliminate many glaciers in the Andes within 20 years, threatening the existence of nearly 100 million people.”

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The images of snow-capped peaks we associate with the Andes mountain range are disappearing due to rising global temperatures. photo: New York Times

In an article from the Huffington Post, Peter Neill writes, “Change must begin somewhere, sometime; perhaps Bolivia is inventing the social model and role of governance that will demonstrate how we can transcend the global divisions and conflicts, beyond the destruction and despair that we feel, toward a harmonious, effective, efficient, and equitable society connected by the true value of nature as sustainer.  If so, should we not pay attention?”

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Beauty Queens and Companies Contribute To Coastal Clean Up

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Half a million people worldwide joined The Ocean Conservancy  International Coastal Cleanup and raised awareness about the human impact of plastics on our oceans.

A bold new initiative on the world stage occurred!  Ocean Conservancy, the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, and Closed Loop Partners, with the support of world leading brands—including Procter & Gamble3MPepsiCo and plastic makers from the American Chemistry Council and the World Plastics Council—will create a new funding mechanism to raise over $150 million in the next five years targeted to improve waste collection, sorting and recycling markets in Southeast Asia (the world’s biggest polluters).  This combined effort helps reach a goal of cutting the amount of trash entering our oceans in HALF.  Many years went into working on this issue.  Because of this year’s support, The Ocean Conservancy was able to show the world that the public stands behind their dream of trash free seas®.

The Trash Free Seas Alliance is comprised of:

Ocean Conservancy, Algalita Marine Research and Education, The Coca-Cola Company, Covanta Energy, The Dow Chemical Company, ITW, Keep America Beautiful, The Marine Mammal Center, The Ocean Recovery Alliance, Project AWARE Foundation, Amcor, American Chemistry Council, Bank of America, Cox Enterprises, DANONE, Dart Container Corporation, Georgia Aquarium, Nature Works, Nestlé Waters NA, Procter & Gamble, REDISA, Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean, The Consumer Goods Forum, Vancouver Aquarium, Walmart, World Animal Protection, The World Plastics Council, World Wildlife Fund 

There are some very environmentally destructive companies making an effort to partner with environmental groups involved in this important cause. Visit their website to learn more.
www.trashfreeseas.org

Of the top ten countries responsible for plastic waste entering the ocean, six are in Asia, with China the top offender producing 2.22 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, and  Indonesia second at 1.29 million, according to Surya Chandak, a senior program officer at the United Nations Environment Program, quoted in local media. Chandak cited the region’s growing economies and populations as prime culprits.  The Philippines is third, Vietnam fourth, Thailand sixth and Malaysia eighth.

Miss Oceans Vietnam was designed to draw attention to the plastic pollution problem in the South China Seas.

Until next time,    

Garbage Girl

Rwanda and Kenya Plastic Pollution Leaders

Plastic bags get buried in the sand and become part of the beach.

Rwanda and Kenya are leading the world by eliminating a familiar problem: billions of plastic bags choking waterways and destroying entire ecosystems.  To fight this evil, all non-biodegradable plastic is banned from these countries.

At Kigali International Airport, a sign warns visitors that plastic bags will be confiscated.  Agents from the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) inspect travelers’ suitcases and discard all plastic films. Throughout the country, businesses have been forced to replace plastic carrier bags with paper ones.  The ban was a bold move. It paid off with an obvious improvement in clean countrysides, roadways, and water.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/15/rwanda-banned-plastic-bags-so-can-we

The United Nations, has begun a #CleanSeas campaign to eliminate the use of plastic microbeads and single-use plastic bags by 2022.   With more than 40 countries acting now to help meet this goal, there is no excuse for the rest of the world to wait.

Many other countries, states and cities are in the news because they are trying to deal with this horrific issue.

England imposed a 5-pence charge on plastic bags in 2015 and usage dropped 85 percent in the first nine months!

California became the first American state to ban plastic bags, in 2014.  State laws are slow to pass.  See where your state stands in the Ban the Bag push.   http://www.bagtheban.com/in-your-state

Gov. Andrew Cuomo blocked a New York City bill in 2014 to impose a 5-cent fee on plastic bags because less advantaged people would be unfairly targeted and the NYC economy is dependent on consumer convenience.  Early this year, Mr. Cuomo formed a task force to create passable legislation. That law cannot come soon enough.  The New York Department of Sanitation collects an average of 1,700 tons of plastic bags per week, costing $12.5 million per year in disposal expenses.    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/nyregion/cuomo-blocks-new-york-city-plastic-bag-law.html?mcubz=1

No bag is free of an environmental impact, whether that’s contributing to climate change, ocean pollution, water scarcity, or pesticide use. We tend to favor reusable bags in an attempt to reduce our chronic overconsumption, but they come with many associated problems.

Considering what we put in the bag at the store (unnecessary packaging, meat, products wrapped in plastic, single use products) and how we discard or use the bag after its achieved its original purpose has a real impact on the environment.

     
These books will open up a whole new world.  Color photographs, maps, and graphics explore one of the planet’s most dynamic environments—from tourist beaches to Arctic beaches strewn with ice chunks to steaming hot tropical shores.  The World’s Beaches tells how beaches work, explains why they vary so much, and shows how dramatic changes can occur on them in a matter of hours.  It discusses tides, waves, and wind; the patterns of dunes, washover fans, and wrack lines; and the shape of berms, bars, shell lags, cusps, ripples, and blisters.  This fascinating, comprehensive guide also considers the future of beaches, and explains how extensively people have affected them—from coastal engineering to pollution, oil spills, and rising sea levels.  The Beach Book tells sunbathers why beaches widen and narrow, and helps boaters and anglers understand why tidal inlets migrate.  It gives home buyers insight into erosion rates and provides natural-resource managers and interested citizens with rich information on beach nourishment and coastal-zone development.

Until next time,  

Garbage Girl

Lobster Die Off Finally Explained?

Baby Lobster Die Off in Baja, California

Molecular biologist Hans Laufer, of the University of Connecticut, has discovered that waterborne chemicals leached from plastics and detergents seem to contribute to “shell disease,” which has caused huge dieoffs among lobsters of Long Island Sound during the past ten years.  According to University of Connecticut, after three years and $3 million invested in a research initiative, Laufer found that chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) are interfering with growth hormones in young lobsters, slowing their molting patterns and changing their development, which then leads to deformations, susceptibility to disease, and for many, death. This seems to explain a huge lobster dieoff that began in the late 1990s, bringing lobster catches to about 1/6 of their 1998 levels.

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Sebago Canoe Club Launches Boy Scouts for Annual Trash Bash

Martin and I were back at Jamaica Bay this past weekend to make another attempt at cleaning up the NYC side of Canarsie Pol.   We happily found ourselves lined up behind 4 Boy Scout Troops from Queens.  They were there to earn merit badges by participating in Sebago Canoe Club’s Annual Trash Bash.

The New York State Beach Cleanup has been run for 30 years by the American Littoral Society’s Northeast Chapter and is part of the International Coastal Cleanup campaign that happens every September.

890 pounds of trash in 48 garbage bags was retrieved, transported by canoe and deposited on the Sebago dock.  The volunteers counted and weighed their haul so that the effects of legislation on polluting our waterways can be measured.

We are so grateful to those who care about our marine environments.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Drive Your Car Or Eat?

Global temperatures increasing steadily at their fastest rates in millions of years? Glaciers calving and collapsing into the sea?  The Atlantic Ocean lapping down the streets of Miami?  Extreme weather and massive flooding. Front page news everyday.

Declining soil health may be less dramatic, but it is equally impactful and even more far-reaching. Over time, erosion, pollution, losses in organic matter, and other climate change impacts on the soil will imperil a very basic human need.  Eating.

Founded and chaired by former US Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore, The Climate Reality Project is dedicated to catalyzing a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society. https://www.climaterealityproject.org/sites/climaterealityproject.org/files/Soil%20Health%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf?utm_source=advocacy&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=general&utm_content=soil_health_ebook

One of the project authors, Chris Clayton, is the agriculture policy director of DTN/The Progressive Farmer and the author of The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change.  He examines the conflict in rural American farming communities over climate change.  “The idea that you could have millions of migrants moving all over the world because they can’t eat, and the disruption and instability created by that doesn’t get enough appreciation around the world.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council has the following guidelines:

1. MESS WITH IT LESS   No-till is a method of farming or gardening successfully while minimizing any physical disturbance of the soil.   Overworked, compacted soil is a hostile environment for important soil microbes.  Chemical or biological additives can damage long-term soil health, disrupting the natural relationship between microorganisms and plant roots.

2. DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY   Diversity creates a better, more productive environment for everything.  Different plants release different carbohydrates through their roots, and various microbes feed on these sugars, returning all sorts of different nutrients back to the plant and the soil.  Planting the same plants in the same location can lead to a buildup of some nutrients and a lack of others. By rotating crops, and deploying cover crops strategically, farms and gardens can be more productive and produce more nutrient rich crops, while avoiding erosion, disease and pest problems.

3. LEARN TO LOVE THE RHIZOSPHERE    Every living plant has a rhizosphere; the area near the root where microbial activity in the soil is concentrated.  It’s the most active part of any soil ecosystem.  Providing plenty of easily accessible food to soil microbes helps them supply nutrients that plants need to grow.  Alternating long-season crops or a succession of short-season crops followed by a cover crop and a healthy dose of fresh compost will build out a healthy and diverse rhizosphere environment for your plants.

4. COVER IT UP   Bare soil is bad soil.  It’s important to both allow crop residues to decompose so their nutrients can be cycled back into the soil and to keep the soil protected with cover, because left exposed to the elements, soil will erode and the nutrients necessary for successful plant growth will either dry out or quite literally wash away.  Additionally, the rhizosphere discussed above will starve and diminish without plants to feed it.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering , “Society gains from no-tillage systems on both large and small farms by:

  • much-diminished erosion and runoff
  • less downstream sedimentation and flood-damage to infrastructure
  • better recharge of groundwater, more regular stream-flow throughout the year, and the drying of wells and boreholes less frequent
  • healthier ponds and lakes with reduced phosphorous nitrates leaching into the water from flooding over fertilized fields
  • cleaner civic water supplies with reduced costs of treatment for urban/domestic use
  • increased stability of food supplies due to greater resilience of crops in the face of climatic drought
  • better nutrition and health of rural populations, with less call on curative health services.

After years of severe drought, the state of California, led by Governor Jerry Brown, has developed programs that place a financial incentive on the adoption of no-till techniques and healthy, soil practices.  Exposed, compacted, soil would have washed away during the intense rains California recently experienced.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl