Grumblings

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http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/notes-grumbling

Some days I’m more easy-going than others.  I realize we all have different priorities, which is good.  Diversity adds color to the palette.  I also realize we are all busy.  But if we are lucky, we do more than just put out fires.  Instead of always reacting, we are proactive.  I try my best not to judge, but some days, actually most days, it seems our environmental life-line would naturally be somewhere in the top five.

Grocery stores are a struggle for me.  For starters, I usually see litter in the parking lot.  Once inside, likely now with soiled hands, I see expensive colorful products displayed on the end-caps, poised for impulsive shoppers.  I see produce and meat products packaged in Styrofoam along with huge displays of Styrofoam products – every size and use imaginable; and single-use disposable water bottles prominently displayed throughout the store.  Then I’m surrounded by all the unhealthy, highly processed foods that claim to be “Natural” simply because this misleading term increases sales.  The FDA has no rules for “Natural” labeling.

Then there is the daunting check-out lane.  As I’m waiting, my eyes gravitate to carts filled with over-packaged single-serve products, Styrofoam products, bottled water, chemical “cleaning” supplies, and unhealthy processed food.  Then the cashier bags and double bags purchases into maybe 20 plastic bags!  Seriously, does a package of toilet paper need to be bagged?  Shaken, I clutch my cloth grocery bags.

Finally I’m out of the store and driving back home.  I see a guy flick out his cigarette butt, or perhaps fast food packaging.  I’ve promised my friends I will no longer stalk and follow these folks home, so I just honk.

Once home, I grab my mail.  I sort through all the junk mail, catalogues and newspaper inserts – Seriously, is there no end to the assault on our trees to produce millions of ads we don’t want or read?  As I settle in and read the news,  with more frequency I read about another environmental assault such as a chemical or oil spill threatening our waterways, soils and atmosphere.   Although, I am grateful for the coverage, since most infractions never make it to news print.

Sigh.  Once when perseverating to a sage friend, she advised me – “You need to spend half your time helping the environment and half your time enjoying it”.  Think I’ll take a hike.

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https://www.greatsmokies.com/hiking.php

Styrofoam Be Gone!

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http://thebadinogden.blogspot.com/2005/09/garbage-at-beus-pond.html

Summer is finally here –time for picnics!  I can buy 170 Styrofoam plates for just $3.97.  What a bargain!  Or not.  Time to “Pause”.

In 1937, Dow Chemical introduced Styrofoam to the US, an expanded polystyrene foam petroleum based product.  A 1986 an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Report named the process of creating polystyrene as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste.  In 2000 the EPA determined styrene as a possible human carcinogen.

Many sources report, by volume Styrofoam uses 25-30 percent of the landfill space.  Once there, it never decomposes, breaking down into smaller pieces.  The wind carries these particles and other Styrofoam litter throughout the environment and into our waterways.  Styrofoam is disastrous for animals, birds, and marine life as they mistaken these toxic particles for food, choking them and clogging their digestive systems.  As Styrofoam accumulates, it also puts our health at risk when we eat fish.

Styrofoam is commonly used for egg cartons, beverage cups, plates, bowls, produce/meat trays, take-out food and packaging peanuts.  The Sierra Club reports each year Americans throw away 2.5 billion  Styrofoam coffee cups every year, enough to circle the earth 436 times – just One Styrofoam product!

While technology for recycling polystyrenes is available, the melt-down process is toxic, the market is very small, it is not cost effective and not available locally.

Progress is being made.  Some entities are outlawing polystyrene foam (Taiwan, Portland, New York City and several cities in California).  Scientists are developing alternatives.  Bagasse take-out containers made of crushed stalks of sugar cane and sturdy paper boxes are now available.

How can you help? Use your Consumer Purchasing Power and stop buying it and help me educate store and restaurant managers and your friends!  Instead of Styrofoam coffee cups, use reusable mugs or paper insulated cups.  Instead of Styrofoam plates and bowls, use reusable dishware, or paper plates.   Give UPS Styrofoam peanuts to reuse; instead use shredded newspaper or real popcorn.    Don’t buy take-out food unless they use bagasse, paper boxes/bags or aluminum foil – better yet, bring your own container.  Take your Styrofoam egg cartons to the Farmer’s Market for reuse and grab some goodies.  Avoid produce packaged in Styrofoam trays!  Throw big Styrofoam packaging blocks into your attic for insulation.  Event Organizers – Use paper insulated cups, #1 plastic cups (recyclable) & fiber or bagasse clamshells, paper bags or aluminum foil.  And pick up Styrofoam litter so it doesn’t have a chance to break-down and wreak havoc!  We need to tackle this menace!

 

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Styrofoam mess cleaned up on Sugar Creek, MO during event hosted by Missouri River Relief 2014

Missouri State Parks 100 Year Anniversary

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https://mostateparks.com/passport

I was quite amazed when perusing the spring edition of Missouri Resources to learn Arrow Rock Tavern was the first property purchased by the state; a rest stop built in 1834 for settlers headed west.  In 1916, Missouri was one of the first states to create a special park fund used to buy land. By 1928 the state had acquired 40,000 acres creating 14 state parks, mostly in the Ozarks. Only four states had obtained more land at this point in time. Funds initially came from game and fishing fees, and federal funds.  As automobiles and better highways improved mobility, park attendance grew. In 1974 the Department of Natural Resources was formed with Missouri State Parks under its umbrella. In 1981 federal aid ended. Fortunately citizen action led to voter approval of a one-tenth-cent sales tax to be split between state parks and soil and water conservation. To date, every ten years a large majority approves the tax renewal, now poised for a vote again this fall.

Per Missouri Resources, “state parks offer prairies, battlefields, covered bridges, ancient Indian villages, forested hills and valleys with caves and springs, streams with trout, lakes with bass and the homes and workplaces of honored artists, pioneers, soldiers and statesmen.” Given our state was quick to preserve land for the public good, we were major recipients of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Thousands of young men worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps building infrastructure in our park systems; as major recipients, four thousand in Missouri alone. Wonderful stone and timber pavilions, along with rock walls and steps along pathways, added beauty and functionality to our parks. With over 18 million visitors each year, we have much to offer – 53 state parks, 35 historic sites, and over 1000 conservation areas. Contrary to most states, entry to our parks is free.

In 2013, American Trails, a national, nonprofit organization, named Missouri the “Best Trails State”. We have almost 1,000 miles of managed trails and more than 500 miles of National Recreation Trails; diverse trails we can walk, hike or bicycle throughout our state park system; and the Katy Trail, the longest developed rail-to-trail  in the nation. We also have the beautiful Ozark National Scenic Waterway flowing through the lower part of our state. If you want to learn more about nature offerings in Missouri, call for free subscriptions to Missouri Resources through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Missouri Conservationist through Missouri Department of Conservation. Missouri is a beautiful state – get out there and enjoy it!

 

South Korea Sightings++++++

While South Korea wasn’t on my bucket-list, my daughter is there teaching English so I enjoy visiting.  This year’s trip was especially exciting, as I met my first granddaughter!  While I would love to write about her, I will keep my environmental focus, sharing sightings and other topics that required further research. With every culture, environmental awareness and actions vary greatly.

My daughter’s family lives in the busy, vibrant coastal city of Busan.  There you find small neighborhood business areas throughout.  I filled our refrigerator with produce, frequenting local vendors. Seasonal vegetables and fruits were plentiful, produce being sold from the back of pick-ups, piles along the street, in alleyway markets or huge outdoor markets. Interestingly, with all these offerings, there was little variety, as in just one kind of apple, fortunately a tasty variety. Here too I visited one of the largest fish markets I have ever seen, curious looking fish of all shapes and sizes. Via the local bus, I sometimes shopped at E-Mart where there are a few imported produce options. Fruits and vegetables are grown everywhere. Valleys are filled with gardens and greenhouses while terrace gardens hug hills and mountains, no soil unturned.

Although fast foods have crept into their society, a typical Korean diet consists of a bowl of steamed white rice, a soybean-paste vegetable soup, kimchi along with side dishes of steamed or seasoned vegetables, pork or fish; sometimes chicken or beef; and a broth type of soup.  Kimchi is a pungent, usually hot mixture of fermented and/or pickled vegetables, most often made out of Chinese cabbage and daikon radishes.  Koreans consumes an average of forty pounds of this revered national dish per year.  While eating out, it’s quite common to sit on the floor and eat at a low table, using a spoon and chopsticks.  As for ordering take-out, they place bowls of food in a hot box attached to a motorcycle, once delivered we enjoy our food served with kimchi, then we return our empty bowls placing them outside our door for pick-up.  In South Korea, they don’t eat on the go as it is more of a social activity. It is their custom to sit down and enjoy food together, focusing on that activity alone.

In South Korea recycling is huge.  Not only is there a strong social pressure to recycle, it’s free, whereas they pay to dispose trash.  I enjoyed recycling day at our apartment complex. All day long, the dwellers hauled their recyclables onto the elevator and contributed to the growing piles, absolutely huge at the end of the day.  They also have a “give away” system in place. If the item doesn’t disappear after a period of time, disposal fees are applied. With such a system come risks. I noted a lot of litter and random displaced bags of trash scattered about as public recycling and trash bins were uncommon.  I only saw public bins when visiting public beaches, parks and some educational facilities.

Hiking is a favorite cultural pastime in South Korea with scenic mountains cover 70% of the terrain.   My daughter and family live on the side of a mountain, so anytime I went anywhere, I either walked up or down the mountain.  My newborn granddaughter resisted daytime naps, so we spent hours hiking while she snoozed in a front pack. We always headed up the mountain, along with the locals, to a beautiful trail overlooking Busan. Green area is quite common and popular, many times including fitness equipment scattered along the path.  Before my visit was over, I finally summitted the mountain.  Unfortunately, views off in the distance were usually obscured as smog is quite common.

After the Second World War, South Korea made a shift from agrarian to industrial; 75% of the population lived in the rural areas; according to World Bank, now 82 percent live in urban areas. Housing is very concentrated, most living in small high-rise apartment. Something common and quite lovely, Koreans typically have a heating system called ondal.  Since it’s a Korean custom to sit and sleep on mats or cushions on the floor, they keep the floors warm by installing pipes under the concrete and circulating hot water through them.

Face masks are quite common in South Korea and East Asia. This tradition began in Japan due to a massive pandemic of influenza killing between20-40 million people around the world. While this practice ended in 1919, it resumed again in the 1970s due to the industrial related rampant air pollution. Residents are now more frequently advised to wear masks during dust advisories as ultrafine dust travels hundreds of miles from the expanding deserts of China filled with lead and arsenic, creating thick smog. They also wear masks to contain germs. Back in 2012 all the masks were white, but this year I saw masks in a wide variety of colors.

The government is pursuing new and renewable energy to secure more independence and reduce their carbon emissions. They are implementing compulsory renewable installation systems to create the demand for new and renewable energy and promote private investment.

In an effort to reduce smoking, South Korea passed a country-wide smoke-free ordinance January 2015.  Still 36% of the men and 4.3% of the women smoke.  Attempts to decrease smoking include smoking bans almost everywhere, price hikes, mandatory warnings on packaging, advertising bans, along with financial incentives and medical help to quit. When walking through neighborhood parks in 2012, I continually dodged groups of older men smoking.  This year I was thrilled to experience much less smoke second-hand smoke.

While South Korea has banned the cultivation of GMO crops, given their low domestic production of soybeans and corn, they are a major importer of GMOs grain. Now they are concerned about pollution threatening their local ecosystem due to GMO seed spill. Consumer groups are requesting GMO product labeling similar to the European Union.

Reforestation efforts increased in the 1970s and a few of the remaining old-growth forests were protected in nature reserves.  Now South Korea has 20 national parks. Interestingly, one of the world’s most interesting wildlife sanctuaries is the DMZ (demilitarized zone), 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, untouched since 1953.

Now back home, I always pay a self-imposed carbon tax.  This trip’s recipients are Missouri River Relief and The Environmental Working Group.