The Possible Journey of a Piece of Litter

stock-photo-large-group-of-people-seen-from-above-gathered-together-in-the-shape-of-a-symbol-of-a-man-next-to-a-316393394
https://www.shutterstock.com/cs/search/street+litter

Say a single-use plastic bottle someway becomes litter – Imagine the possible journey of this misplaced item.  Best case scenario – you or I are strolling along, see it, and grab it.  It gets recycled and perhaps turns up again recycled into a nice fleece vest with a new life.  Or if it stays visible until March, maybe a participant of our local effort, Pick Up Boonville, snatches it and sends it to the recycling stream.

If not, perhaps the wind blows it to a storm drain or a river bank, when it rains it could flow into the Missouri River.  There is a slight chance someone from the Missouri River Relief effort retrieves it. During their 15th year in 2015, 1508 Volunteers removed 41 tons of trash along 57 miles of the river!  One year, after a 600 mile journey, a plastic Sioux Falls, South Dakota restaurant cup was rescued during the Hartsburg Missouri River Relief clean-up effort.

Or perhaps it rains for days either here or up-river, the river rises and deposits the bottle somewhere further inland where it remains for hundreds of years, or perhaps it lands on an island where someone finds it.  Or maybe the river rises again and meets it, lodges it out of the mud and sends it further downstream.   Maybe a boater will grab it or it could be so full of mud it simply sinks to the bottom of the Missouri River remaining there for hundreds of years.  Say it continues floating, and makes it to the Mississippi River.  Maybe one of Chad’s Mississippi River Clean Up participant will run across it. (This organization has been picking up now for 25 years!)  Or perhaps someone with a river home near Natchez, Mississippi will grab that bottle.  If all fails, it could float all the way past New Orleans into the Gulf of Mexico and join gravitate to the North Atlantic Gyre, a swirling pool filled with all things plastic.  Once there it could find its way to one of the five oceanic gyres – swirling heaps of garbage.   If we were on the west side of the Continental Divide, it could make its way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the size of Texas!

Then I think back to the beginning of this journey.  If we had bottle deposit laws or if that individual used a reusable water bottle instead, the journey would never have begun.   So, if you see a discarded plastic water bottle, don’t let it get away – Grab it!

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http://www.algalita.org/mid-ocean-plastics-cleanup-schemes-too-little-too-late/

Say No to the Straw

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© 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/

 

 

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!

 

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

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!

 

Why I Care

 

14 - Joan '78

Me pondering when 24 year old, perhaps thinking about nature? This was certainly a beautiful spot along a river in Tennessee.

As a child, I wandered aimlessly thru the woods for hours, then cooled my tired feet in the rippling stream as I watched the meanderings of minnows and tadpoles. Once replenished, I wandered on, open to all adventures.  Although never verbalized, I always cared.  As an adult, I have now found my voice.

Now as I revel in the sights, sounds and smells as I hike through Harley Park and along the Katy Trail, I gladly pick up litter obscuring the beauty.

As I visit pristine National and State Parks and drive upon clean cities, I see the possibilities.

As I hear the birds chirping and delighting in the morning, and flock to our bird feeders after snowfall, I want to keep the skies free of pollution.

As I admire majestic California Redwoods and the Big Burr Oak near McBaine, I gladly recycle and use less paper products.

As I breathe in the scents of the flowers & herbs and the fresh air after a rain, I feel an awakening.

As I feel the warmth of the sun and the strength of the wind, I see the potential of harnessing renewable energy sources that don’t pollute the earth.

As I drive thru billboard-free Vermont and Maine, I delight in the views around the next bend.

As I am mesmerized by the ocean waves flowing in and out, watch a waterfall trickling, flowing or thundering over the ledge, and canoe along clear waters, I strive to minimize the chemicals, plastics and cigarette butts flowing into them.

As I hike thru the forest along a clear mountain stream, soak in a hot spring along the way, and summit a mountain, I feel alive!

As I shop at the Farmers Market and see and taste the bounty nature has provided, I want to protect our seeds, soil, and water.

As I meander through the woods and snatch a discarded chip bag, I know I have made a difference.

As I stroll across the Missouri River Bridge, and watch a beautiful sunset melt into the river and fill the sky with color, I am replenished and energized.

As I see a child mesmerized by nature – closely examining a cloud, flower, animal, or build sand castles by the ocean, I know I will always do my part to conserve and preserve those marvels for future generations to come.

 

Greece Travels and Giving Back

While in Italy, we took a two week excursion into Greece.  Here too we found fresh produce abounded, recycling a bit less prominent, feral cats everywhere, and again the wonderful Mediterranean diet with no GMO tainted food – Greek Salads and fluffy Greek yogurt strewn with local honey were our favorites.  Small family businesses covered the spectrums of our needs – restaurants, stores, hotels, and more.  Diminishing our pleasure a bit, we struggled with second-hand smoke; of all the countries, Greece has the highest smokers per capita. Fortunately, inside dining was customarily smoke-free.

Continue reading “Greece Travels and Giving Back”

Cigarette Butt Bust Challenge

One thousand less cigarette butts; now our soils, waterways, fish and wildlife will be just a little bit less toxic!  Early December, I captured 1000 of these toxic litter bits in my neighborhood in 1 ½ hours, one gallon of butts including six cigarette packages and eight cigar tips.  Those butts were generally scattered absolutely everywhere, but at times I did run across clean stretches.  No doubt we have some wonderful picker uppers out there already – Many Thanks!  And thanks to the person who honked, I’m assuming you were showing your appreciation for my pick-up efforts or my derriere, either way – Thanks!

12-7-15 Cigarette Butt Bust
My haul after 1 1/2 hours.

Four and one half trillion cigarette butts are thrown away every year world-wide, most simply tossed on the ground, our most pervasive litter.  Those butts not only diminish the beauty of our town, the toxic accumulation leaches into our soils and waterways poisoning our food chain.  A more immediate health threat, they are also mistaken for food by fish, wildlife, pets and even small children.  I’m guessing we might have more than our share given Missouri’s horrendously low tax rate of 17 cents per pack, the lowest in the nation. Those butts are made of cellulose acetate, a plastic slow to biodegrade with a filter designed to absorb vapors and chemicals; certainly not something good to have lying around absolutely everywhere!

Here is what I’m thinking; my route only covered around two-thirds of a mile, both sides of the road.  We need to all work on this together!

If you want to join the “Cigarette Butt Bust” –

-Grab a small bag and a pair of tight fitting gloves (don’t touch those toxic butts).

-While picking up just focus on your mission – 1000 cigarette butts – Don’t let the bulk and weight of all the other litter distract you.  You can grab that later. No need to count the butts, one gallon of butts is your visual target.

-Every 100 butts or so, stand up straight and stretch leaning backwards.

-Be aware of traffic – It’s easy to lose track of your footings while in a dizzy stupor repeatedly bending over.

-Don’t pick up right after you eat a huge bowl of oatmeal, learn from my mistake.

-For those driving by, express your appreciation or maybe stop and help.

-Consider tackling this challenge in increments, my upper leg muscles were sore for days.

-If you have a bad back, grab a kid to pick up with you, or train your dog.  For an easier pick up, focus on areas of concentration utilizing a long handled dustpan and broom to sweep up.  There are ample toxic piles gracing our streets, parks and parking lots.

-For a larger impact, consider forming a group to tackle larger areas and/or shout out challengers to your friends, neighbors, and city leaders to do the same on your local radio.  I’m certainly putting the challenge out community-wide via e-mails, the local newspaper and radio. I plan to announce our results at our Sixth Annual Pick-Up Boonville event March 19, 2016!

– As for smokers, quit flicking those butts! Better yet, quit smoking!

I realize, for many of you, it’s a bit cold out there but warmer days do show up randomly. So go ahead and pick your spot and get started now, or put it on your To Do List. Exercise while contributing to your community!  You might choose to pick up along a busy roadway, along your street, walking route, work or church parking lot, or concentrate on one of your local parks or downtown.  Wherever you go, no doubt, you will quickly capture 1000 butts.  Then challenge someone else to do the same. Many, many thanks in advance! Let’s have a great “Cigarette Butt Bust”!