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!
While it’s easy to feel quite small in this huge world we live in, I try to be mindful, striving to live positively as I interact with people and the Earth. I realize something as simple as a smile might lift someone’s spirits. I also take great efforts to live and consume conservatively, as our environment is fragile and our natural resources limited. While it’s always important to Refuse, Reduce and Reuse first, when I look at the numbers I’m astounded by the positive influence of just One Recycler.
When I recycle a single aluminum can, I save enough energy to power a TV for three hours. The average American has the opportunity to recycle more than 25,000 cans in a lifetime! It takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to make it from raw materials and a recycled can typically is back on the grocery shelves within 60 days.
By recycling one plastic bottle, you save enough energy to power a 60-watt bulb for six hours. And if you recycle one glass jar, you could save enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. Just one! It takes 70% less energy to recycle plastic than to produce it from raw materials and 40% less energy for glass.
Now consider paper. The average American use about 680 pounds of paper per year, over a ton in less than four years. Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 thirty foot (pulp) trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. This represents a 65% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution.
According to 2011 EPA figures, an average American generates 4.7 pounds per person per day and 75% of that is reusable or recyclable. What a great opportunity to conserve energy, reduce air and water pollution, reduce greenhouse gases, and conserve our natural resources while creating jobs.
Once you start recycling and realize your positive contribution, you will likely teach your children and tell your friends. From there your positive influence grows exponentially. Never ever underestimate the Power of One!
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.
During the 17th and 18th century almost nothing was thrown away, reusing and recycling was commonplace practice as it was generally cheaper to reuse items than to buy new ones.
1830s – The poor and “swill” children scavenged the streets for any items of worth. Ragmen worked the streets buying bones, paper, old iron, bottles and rags.
1842 – Estimated 10,000 hogs were on NYC streets. The roaming pigs consumed so much garbage and furnished so much food for the poor that efforts to ban them ran into political opposition.
1866 – Rags were used to make paper. By the late1870s wood pulp was used for newsprint, and prices dropped rapidly. Soon paper was recycled into more paper.
1890s – Articles in magazines focused primarily on germs; cleaning supplies purchases more than doubled between 1900 and 1929.
1894 – Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog began; by 1897 the Sears catalog was 786 pages long.
1895 – In NYC, garbage was hauled to Barren Island where people sorted it and salvaged 60% for reuse.
1900s – As technological innovations and mass production became common, producing goods became easier and cheaper. Heinz and Procter & Gamble were mass-producing and selling packaged products. Middle-class people learned to toss things in the trash, attracted by the convenience and repelled by the association of reuse and recycling with a new class of impoverished scavengers. As the city’s trash system improved, it became easier to throw things away.
In 1902 about 4/5 of cities required some separation of organic garbage or ashes so that these wastes could be recycled or reused. Contractors hired immigrant workers to pick through trash and separate out marketable bones, rags and bottles.
By 1930 – Waste services no longer needed to pay for themselves through salvaged materials. Organic discards were no longer put back into the soil.
1914 – Home Economics Extension Service formed – introduced farm women to new products, labor-saving devices, and provided latest methods instructions.
Late 1920s – Movies, magazines and Radio become major commercial enterprises.
1924 – Kleenex introduced by Kimberly-Clark; “Germ-filled handkerchiefs are a menace to society!”
1929 – The rhetoric of convenience, luxury, and cleanliness was potent; the ideal of the durable and reusable was displaced by aspirations of leisure and luxury, ease and cleanliness.
Flies and Disease: Kill the Fly and Save the Child. An early British public health poster (c.1920)
1930s – Art Deco was introduced; industrial design became a fad among manufacturers.
1933 – The common practice of dumping garbage in the ocean ruled illegal by US Supreme Court.
1930-1940 – Engineers packed earth with trash to reclaim low land; Site of NYC 1939 World’s Fair was built on land filled with trash.
1939-1945 – World War II – Due to a massive material shortage some items were rationed and recycling by participating in scrap drives is considered patriotic. Millions of people donated metals (pots and pans, kettles, ice cream scoops, and hair curlers) and conserved fiber. National Rubber Drives secured tires for the military. Waste fat was collected to make glycerin for explosives. Citizens planted “Victory Gardens to produce food.
Post WW II –After years of deferred gratification, consumers spending increased 60%. Advertisers encouraged people to buy more than one of everything and manufacturers started adding built in obsolescence – Planned failure of materials; functional obsolescence (outdated), style obsolescence. Recycling was largely forgotten.
1950s – Age of paper plates, polyester, fast food, TV dinners, new refrigerators, washing machines, lots of packaging.
1953 – Keep America Beautiful (KAB) was established by the packaging industry. It focused on individual’s bad habits & laws that steered clear of regulating industry. Reducing consumption and mandating reuse was threatening so they switched the focus to litter and recycling. Centerpiece was its great cultural invention – Litter.
1955-1958 Standard Packaging expands and triples sales of discardable trays, boxes, bags, plates, bowls, utensils.
Advertising spending mushroomed from one billion in 1920 to more than 4.5 billion in 1950 & by 1956 almost 10 billion – all to promote consumer spending; Advertising tapped into insecurities – bad breath, body odor. Marketing based on desire, anxiety and envy were highly effective; Advertising connected social status and human value with ability to consume. Sound familiar?
1960 – Plastics became one of the largest industries in the country; Styrofoam emerged as a new disposable.
1970 – First Earth Day, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” concept promoted; Recycling became popular again, drop-off recycling centers were established; Rising energy costs – recycling saved energy.
1970s – Manufactures deployed smoke screen of job losses and economic doom to head off packaging regulations.
1972 – First deposit law in the US, roadside litter down 35% by volume, millions fewer beverage containers were consumed, energy savings, jobs increased, prices stabilized; Later most repealed – Disposables favored by grocery store chains as it saved labor and space.
1976 – Beverage containers fastest growing type of solid waste; Packaging, measured by weight, became the single largest category of municipal solid waste at 34%.
1980s – Curbside recycling systems began.
Late 1980s – An EPA study reports more than 99% of all plastic containers were discarded after only a single use. Americans were throwing away 10 million tons of plastic each year, 25% of all waste by volume.
1981 – Americans held over 6 million garage sales a year, generating nearly a billion dollars, freeing up space for more consumption.
1993 -The EPA reported that domestic recycling had tripled from 7% to almost 22%. Recycling programs are expected to pay for themselves, while solid waste departments are fully funded no matter what. Recycling has long been the enemy of the solid waste industry, stealing volumes otherwise headed for profit making landfills.
2005 – Over 30% of municipal waste is packaging & 40% of that is plastic; Much of America’s discards get shipped overseas for recycling and disposal.
Our population and consumerism has grown exponentially – All at the expense of our Earth and finite natural resources. It seems our appetites are insatiable – exactly what the advertisers and Billionaires want. We are bombarded by ads, stores even open on Thanksgiving vying for the Christmas buck. We all “need” things, I get that. But when it comes to “wants” or simply the desire to shop, maybe try a Second Hand Store or take a nature walk instead! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
There is something satisfying about gathering and sorting our recyclables, then taking them all to our local recycling center where they magically “go away”. But there is no such thing as “away”.
China started importing scrap in 2001, after joining the World Trade Organization. Soon the bulk of the world’s recyclables went to China; materials such as metal, plastics, textiles, rubber and paper. In 2012 recyclables became the US number two export to China, second only to soybeans. According to the International Solid Waste Association, in 2012 China bought 70 percent of the world’s plastic waste exports. Whereas, the United States sent the bulk of all recyclables including 68 percent of all aluminum scrap, 70 percent recovered paper and 58 percent plastic scraps.
Industry preferred China due to their lower wages and minimal environmental standards. Especially prevalent plastics were sorted, cleaned, and broken down into plastic resin used to make everything from cosmetics to laptop cases and shipped back. But with those recyclables came trash, mountains of it. China became the world’s trash dump. The Chinese citizens became outraged over the noxious air and polluted waterways so in 2013, the government implemented Operation Green Fence.
With China’s new standards, when ships contained recyclables with higher than 1.5 percent contamination, non-compliant import licenses were suspended, and the shipment was rejected and sent back. This caused a huge industry upset. Commodity value went down as we accumulated a huge stockpile of recyclables.
Unfortunately, some traders have chosen to continue to sell their lack-luster recyclables to countries with lower standards such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Once there those countries are saddled with extra trash, then likely sort it and ship it on to China. Other recycling facilities have built in a second sorting step and send the recyclables on to China or simply keep those valuable resources here.
With these new standards, we have a real opportunity to become innovative and build a strong domestic recycling market in the United States, embracing the value of recyclables instead of shipping it away. Improved systems will create resources with higher value and keep them away from our landfills. By creating our own sustainable recycling markets, we will save energy, reduce pollution, create jobs and boost our economy.Here are ways we can help –
Reduce and Reuse First – The thought of empty plastic water bottles traveling all the way to China is mind boggling!
Better Recyclables – Sort your recyclables as requested and don’t drop off soiled containers or trash.
Recycling Dumpsters for Businesses – Support any minimal fees local recycling centers need to charge for the convenience of picking up your recyclables.
Close the Loop – Buy Stuff made out of recycled materials.