Say No to the Straw

straws-wrapped-around-the-world
© The Last Plastic Straw

While I’m sparing everybody the horrible visuals of the unfortunate turtles saddled with wayward straws stuck up their nose, I do want to share this consumption visual – the number of straws used daily in the United States could circle our planet more than two-and-a-half times a day – 500 million straws! While it’s easy to mindlessly take those “free” straws, they come at a high price.  This seemingly innocuous straw has significant environmental impact – Extracting resources, distribution, polluting our oceans and crowding our landfills.

In the early 1900s straws, made of paper and rye, became common due to the fear of polio and tuberculosis being transmitted from shared glasses. In the mid-1950s as cars became popular, fast food restaurants soon graced our roadways. Fast-food restaurants replaced glass with low-cost disposable packaging for meals and made straws commonplace accompanying drinks on the go. By 1960, those renewable paper straws were replaced with plastic, a petroleum product. To gain a strong foothold, straws were heavily marketed as “convenient” and a way to reduce illness exposure from improperly washed containers. With people eating more meals on the go, straws fling into our environment. Now, consider the implications of twenty minutes of convenience.

More demand for straws means more production, more oil and gas extraction, more electricity for production, and more gas to both ship materials to plastic manufacturers and to deliver straws to the consumer. So, more carbon emissions and pollution for a now commonplace product we rarely “need”.

There are also health implications. Like most plastics, those straws contain Bisphenol A (BPA) which mimics the activity of hormones in the body, such as estrogen, linked to many serious health risks.

With all single-use disposable products, comes the disposal end. Plastic straws are rarely recycled; they don’t biodegrade so they stay around and accumulate. According to Ocean Conservancy, straws and stirrers were the fifth most common marine plastic debris found during their 2015 coastal cleanup (cigarette butts #1). Researchers estimate 90% of our marine life and seabirds have now ingested plastics.

Luckily, this is an environmental menace we can easily avoid. If you don’t need a straw, don’t use one. When eating out, simply say “no straw please” or have more of an impact by requesting the restaurant or bar only serve straws upon request. While some restaurants have switched back to paper straws, best case practices is to avoid all unnecessary disposables. If you like straws or have a physical disability requiring one, consider buying reusable  stainless steel, glass, or bamboo straws.  At the very minimum, at least  buy paper straws – yes, they are still out there.

If by chance, my powers of persuasion are lacking, I challenge you to Google “sea turtle plastic straw” and see the consequences of one wayward plastic straw – It’s horrifying. If for no other reason, say “no to the straw” to save our marine life.  With this one single action, we will all enjoy a much cleaner environment – our air, land and oceans.

saveaturtle
Take the no plastic straw pledge – http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/no-straw-please/

 

 

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Backyard Trash Burning Dangers

burn-barrel
http://myairdistrict.com/index.php/burning-info/open-burning/

If your method of waste disposal is burning, it’s time to rethink those practices. Not only are you exposing yourself to pollutants, you are also putting family and neighbors at risk. Children, the elderly and those with preexisting respiratory conditions are especially vulnerable. Those airborne toxins also contaminate our environment and food sources.

Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), backyard burning produces significant quantities of dioxin, a major health concern. Dioxins are formed when the combination of carbon and trace amounts of chlorine are burned. Even when plastics are removed, dioxins are still created because nearly all household wastes contain trace amounts of chlorine. Through burning, dioxins are released into the air settling on plants. Plants are eaten by animals and dioxin settles in their fatty tissue; those toxins are then transferred to us when we eat meat and dairy products. Dioxin also settles on our soils and waterways contaminating the fish we consume. Dioxins can alter the cells resulting in “adverse effects upon reproduction and development, suppression of the immune system, disruption of hormonal systems, and cancer.”

The EPA classifies dioxins as “persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic pollutants (PBTs). PBTs are highly toxic, long-lasting substances that can build up in the food chain to levels that are harmful to human and ecosystem health. Persistent means they remain in the environment for extended periods of time. Bioaccumulative means their concentration levels increase as they move up the food chain.”

In addition to dioxin, backyard burning creates other pollutants including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and hexachlorobenzene. The EPA reports these pollutants can have immediate and long-term health effects including cancer, respiratory illnesses, and damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system.  Remaining ash residues contaminate vegetables when scattered in gardens.

These practices also pollute the environment with toxic compounds including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, and particle pollution. These compounds contribute to acid rain, greenhouse gases, global warming, ozone depletion, and the formation of smog.

Then what do we do with all this trash? For starters, when we practice the RRR principals, we create less waste.

Reduce –Use durable, long-lasting goods, avoid disposable single-use items, and purchase products with less packaging.

Reuse – Repair, sell, share, and donate; Compost –Yard trimmings and food scraps create natural fertilizer

Recycle – If it can’t be reused, recycle through Boonslick Industries.

Waste Disposal – Don’t litter or dump illegally. Take your waste to a transfer station or purchase a waste collection service.

With these practices, our bodies and the Earth will be healthier and happier!

backyard-2
http://ecoevolution.ie/blog/burning-of-waste/

 

 

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.

hiking-feet-fall-1240
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!

 

10-5-13 Sugar Creek MRR effot
Styrofoam mess cleaned up on Sugar Creek, MO during event hosted by Missouri River Relief 2014

Missouri State Parks 100 Year Anniversary

centennial-logo
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!

 

Litter Be Gone

Pick_Up_Boonville_LogoAfter a fantastic Sixth Annual Pick-Up Boonville, I still feel inspire and keep tackling new routes. Perhaps you saw us picking up along a busy roadway one beautiful morning early April. Our action plan – we each took one side of the road. Although I already knew this, as we trudged up the hill I was reminded once again, we are a mismatched pair.  When it comes to picking up litter, I’m a Type A+ personality sort, whereas my partner, well he is too mellow to even define.  Mismatched perhaps, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I lagged further and further behind, I kept hearing those dreaded words “Leave the cigarette butts!”  Finally I was out of earshot!  Realizing we had only allotted one hour to this task, I begrudgingly passed up the butts and made more progress up the hill; that is until I came upon a drainage area in the woods to my left.  When I see litter headed downhill, all bets are off. I attack it with a vengeance; I might as well pack a lunch!  Major acrobatics ensued as I attempted to capture yet one more elusive piece of litter as I envisioned it floating into the Missouri River.  Finally I maneuvered myself out of the brush and focused my efforts on the bank visible from the road. I didn’t purposely start on the toxic butts again, but if I was already bent over you bet I grabbed the butts within reach; then the butts close-by if it only required shifting my weight and moving just one foot!  Yeah, I can compromise, well sort of.

As I looked up the hill, I realized my partner must have run into a challenging area, as I was getting closer. I was also feeling confident since I had a trick in my back pocket – the car keys! Although there was a risk factor – we were within walking distance from home. As it turned out, we reached our end goal around the same time. I was elated when he said he would walk back down the hill to get our car, more time to nab cigarette butts!  After finishing the intersection, I headed back down the hill. Dang – a newly tossed McDonalds coffee cup lid! Okay, so I’m not telling anybody where I picked up, just in case a reader will purposefully litter there and, well let’s say, challenge my personal growth. Yeah, when I’m deep in litter recognizance, my mind can go there.  Reset, the birds were singing and the trees were in bloom, pear trees and redbuds!  Wish we could give this route more than an hour, but I have another map calling my name!

 

Join the Earth Day Celebration

 

earth-day
https://happyfunenjoy.com/earth-day-activities-posters-images-quotes-facts-slogans-pictures-coloring-pages-and-poems/

Earth Day will be here tomorrow – 4/22/16 – an annual celebration shared by billions of people all over the world.  Perhaps for you, Earth Day has already arrived! This event was first established in the United States in 1970. During a 1969 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Science, and Cultural Organization) conference in San Francisco, a peace activist, John McConnell, proposed a day to honor the earth and the concept of peace. His idea caught on quickly as twenty million Americans celebrated forming peaceful demonstrations favoring environmental reform.  Two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools and hundreds of communities across the United States participated the first year. The Earth Day celebration was held locally in Columbia at Peace Park, on the University of Missouri (MU) campus, from the get-go, an annual tradition that continues today.

In 1990, Denis Hayes promoted the event internationally, organizing events in 141 nations. With the world-wide expansion came a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and the beginning of United Nations summits focusing on environmental concerns. By year 2000, the Internet helped link activists world-wide; over 5,000 environmental groups reached out to millions of people in 184 countries. Now it is observed in 192 countries, coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, making it the largest secular holiday in the world celebrated by billions of people every year.

For years I have participated in this fine tradition. This is a fun event I enjoyed sharing with my girls while they were growing up, they loved celebrating Earth Day! Hopes are you too have been enjoying this annual tradition.  If not, click on the Earth Day Network, and find an event in your area.

As for “my” local, this year’s event, the 27th Annual, will again be held in Peace Park on the MU campus from noon to 7pm  this Sunday, 4/24; rain date 5/1/16.  Peace Park is located at the north end of the MU campus along Elm St, between 6th & 8th Street. Over the years the event has expanded onto the adjacent streets, including 7th, 8th, and Elm Street.  Events include a packed performance on the musical stage, Kids Park, Eco Avenue, and many educational and food booths. The stage will be filled with performances including two children’s choirs, dance performances, folk music, bluegrass, sitar, woodwind music, and close out with a couple bands including Violet and the Undercurrents and Catdaddy’s Funky Fuzz-Bunker Band.  For more information go to – http://columbiaearthday.org/contact; 573-875-0539 or email mail@columbiaearthday.org. Mark your calendars now! Then 4/24, bring your family and friends along and join the celebration with the rest of the World!

 

Precious Water

splash
http://www.islamforchristians.com/world-water-day-islamic-perspective/

If you live in the US, remember the wide-spread unrelenting drought of Summer 2012?  That summer, I recall one day they predicted a 90% chance of rain, and it still didn’t rain!  It’s a bit unsettling – 95% of the Scientists have confirmed we are experiencing Climate Change, so extreme weather patterns and droughts will likely become more common.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, year 2013 ended with 31% of the contiguous US experiencing moderate to extreme drought.  As droughts become more common, it’ll become more difficult to replenish our current water supplies and our soils become dryer.

Continue reading “Precious Water”

By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, study says

The Washington Post –  January 20, 2016

There is a lot of plastic in the world’s oceans.

It coagulates into great floating “garbage patches” that cover large swaths of the Pacific. It washes up on urban beaches and remote islands, tossed about in the waves and transported across incredible distances before arriving, unwanted, back on land. It has wound up in the stomachs of more than half the world’s sea turtles and nearly all of its marine birds, studies say. And if it was bagged up and arranged across all of the world’s shorelines, we could build a veritable plastic barricade between ourselves and the sea.

But that quantity pales in comparison with the amount that the World Economic Forum expects will be floating into the oceans by the middle of the century.

If we keep producing (and failing to properly dispose of) plastics at predicted rates, plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish pound for pound in 2050, the nonprofit foundation said in a report Tuesday.

According to the report, worldwide use of plastic has increased 20-fold in the past 50 years, and it is expected to double again in the next 20 years. By 2050, we’ll be making more than three times as much plastic stuff as we did in 2014.

[Nearly all of the world’s seabirds have eaten plastic, study estimates]

Meanwhile, humans do a terrible job of making sure those products are reused or otherwise disposed of: About a third of all plastics produced escape collection systems, only to wind up floating in the sea or the stomach of some unsuspecting bird. That amounts to about 8 million metric tons a year — or, as Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia put it to The Washington Post in February, “Five bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.”

midway-albatross-2-700x363
http://americablog.com/2013/02/1200-miles-from-civilization-the-albatross-of-midway-are-dying-from-eating-manmade-plastic-video.html

The report came a day before the start of the glitzy annual meeting arranged by the World Economic Forum to discuss the global economy. This year’s meeting in Davos, Switzerland, is centered on what the WEF terms “the fourth industrial revolution” — the boom in high-tech areas like robotics and biotechnology — and its effect on the widening gulf between the wealthy and the world’s poor.

But the plastic situation — fairly low-tech and more than a century old at this point — is a reminder that we still haven’t quite gotten the better of some of the problems left over from the first few “industrial revolutions.”

[‘Microbeads’ soon will be banned from toothpaste and soaps]

According to the report, more than 70 percent of the plastic we produce is either put in a landfill or lost to the world’s waterways and other infrastructure. Plastic production accounts for 6 percent of global oil consumption (a number that will hit 20 percent in 2050) and 1 percent of the global carbon budget (the maximum amount of emissions the world can produce to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius). In 2050, the report says, we’ll be spending 15 percent of our carbon budget on soda bottles, plastic grocery bags and the like.

Once it gets washed into waterways, the damage caused by plastics’ presence costs about $13 billion annually in losses for the tourism, shipping and fishing industries. It disrupts marine ecosystems and threatens food security for people who depend on subsistence fishing.

Besides which, all that plastic in the water isn’t too great for the animals trying to live there.

The data in the report comes from interviews with more than 180 experts and analysis of some 200 studies on “the plastic economy.”

The report was published on the same day that a study came out in the journal Nature Communications asserting that the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization is drastically underestimating the overfishing of the oceans. The study, from researchers Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller of the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project, found that global catches between 1950 and 2010 were probably 50 percent higher than previously thought — meaning that damage to the world’s fish stocks was also much worse.

Overall, it was not a good news day for anyone with fins.

But both reports gave some signs for optimism. Pauly and Zeller told The Washington Post that the underestimation of how much humans were fishing means the U.N. also underestimated how much fish the oceans can provide.

“If we rebuild stocks, we can rebuild to more than we thought before,” Pauly said. “Basically, the oceans are more productive than we thought before.”

And the World Economic Forum report, though not quite so sunny, suggests that there are ways to offset all this plastic we’re making and discarding. Countries can implement incentives to collect waste and recycle it, use more efficient or reusable packaging and improve infrastructure so that less trash slips through the system and into the seas.

Sarah Kaplan is a reporter for Morning Mix.""

Plastic Grocery Bags 101

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Posted in the Boston Globe By Leon Neyfakh November 25, 2012

Many of us remember those glorious litter-free days before we became a disposable society.  Now we see single-use low-density polyethylene plastic bags cluttering the landscape snagged on fences and trees everywhere.  First introduced to the US in 1977, by 2012 90% of all groceries were bagged in plastic per the Associated Press.  The Sierra Club estimates 380 billion plastic bags are used in the US every year (1,200 bags per person!) requiring 12 million barrels of oil to produce.

Continue reading “Plastic Grocery Bags 101”