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Posts Tagged ‘plastic’

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Photo: Ocean Voyages Institute
So-called “ghost nets” are fishing nets that have broken loose and now float freely, entangling wildlife.

There are so many things going on right now that sometimes it’s hard to remember that crises like global warming and plastic pollution are no less urgent just because illness and job losses are center stage.

Fortunately, all this time we’ve been counting Covid-19 deaths, a few people have been working on the problems that will still be around when the pandemic has ended.

On June 19, Doug Struck reported at the Christian Science Monitor about one woman working to clean up the ocean.

“Nothing pleases Mary Crowley more than to see a huge, dripping, bedraggled fishing net, ensnarled with plastic garbage, being lifted from the sea. That is progress, she says.

“Ms. Crowley, a sailor since childhood days spent in her grandfather’s wooden sailboat on Lake Michigan, has been working for more than a decade to clean up the world’s oceans. She started by urging fishermen to pick up floating plastic. Now her million-dollar effort employs drones, satellites, floating GPS buoys, sophisticated oceanographic models, a corps of yachtsmen, and an oceangoing cargo ship.

“The Kwai, a 140-foot, two-masted cargo sailing vessel that normally shuttles supplies among Pacific islands, has been plucking nets and trash from the Pacific for the past six weeks. It is expected to return to Hawaii around June 23 with 100 tons of debris, the first of what Ms. Crowley hopes will be two such voyages this summer; she is hoping to dispatch the ship for a second voyage in July.

Much of that trash will be ‘ghost nets,’ fishing nets abandoned or lost that float freely, ensnarling fish, marine life, trash, and passing vessels.

“The Kwai’s crew of 11, sailors accustomed to unloading anything from cars to concrete on isolated islands, uses winches and sweat to hoist the heavy nets from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where swirling currents gather floating debris.

“The term is misleading; the area is huge and the debris is spread out. But the Kwai is led to wayward nets in part by GPS buoys that yachtsmen and other sailors, volunteers for Ms. Crowley, have stopped mid-ocean to attach to trash.

“ ‘This work feels great,’ Capt. Brad Ives replies mid-voyage from the Kwai by email. ‘When the weather is good and the nets are flowing, there is no better work for a fine old sailing ship. Crew spirits are high and we are cleaning our Mother Ocean.’ …

“Ms. Crowley began her project as a labor of love for the sea. She runs a yacht chartering business from Sausalito, California. But her clients consistently confirmed her own observations that the ocean seems increasingly cluttered with plastic debris. …

“Every year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic is washed from the lands and is threatening to choke the seas. The United Nations has warned that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Marine mammals are routinely found dead, their bodies clogged with plastics. Microplastics – the result of deteriorating larger pieces or small manufactured beads – are now thoroughly infused in the marine food chain. …

“There are many creative ideas to clean the ocean, and Ms. Crowley supports them all. She formed Ocean Voyages Institute in 1979 to educate audiences about the sea. Over time she gathered a ‘think tank’ of sailors, naval architects, marine engineers, and fishermen. ‘We decided that one of the most harmful things going on in the ocean is the huge proliferation of large plastics,’ she says. ‘This includes derelict fishing gear, and boats and piers and car fenders.’ …

“ ‘There is debris practically every day inside the gyre,’ Captain Ives writes from the ship. … ‘The most difficult are always the big nets. … These require divers in the water to get cargo slings around them and often several lifts to get them wrestled aboard. A large net can take several hours to wrestle aboard.’ …

“Ms. Crowley has recruited a cadre of volunteers with a gentle inexhaustibility.

“ ‘As someone who loves the ocean and has had the pleasure and honor of spending lots of time in the ocean,’ she says, ‘it’s my responsibility to not have the health of our ocean held hostage by plastic garbage.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: TripAdvisor
Debra’s Natural Gourmet helps customers cut back on plastic like liquid-soap bottles. They don’t have an answer yet to takeout containers, though.

Every day I’m trying to think of ways to cut back on plastic like the good people at Plastic Free Hackney in England. How am I doing so far? Not great. Plastic is so ubiquitous. But “one and two and 50 make a million,” and there is help from like-minded businesses.

I found a dish-soap concentrate that lets me reuse bottles (etee dish soap), and now a local organic store is letting folks reuse bottles from home over and over by filling up from the store’s large dispensers.

According to Emily Holden at the Guardian, we need to cut back because recycling of plastics is not really working. No one wants them. Holden offers tips on reducing our plastics dependency.

“As plastics corporations ramp up production,” she writes, “they are also promoting a failing recycling system.

Just 9% of plastics get recycled. Traditional plastics are made from extracted oil and gas, and they contribute to the rising temperatures behind the climate crisis.

“Environment experts are increasingly calling for a reduction in plastic use, as the waste accumulates in the oceans, poor countries and even human bodies. Plastics are also burned, as China – which once accepted the bulk of America’s waste – has begun to refuse it. And more than a million Americans lived next to polluting incinerators.

“Significant reductions will require systemic change, researchers say. But there are also some easy tips for individuals who want to cut back on plastics. (If this list is overwhelming and you’re not sure where to start, collect your plastic waste for a month and conduct an audit. Cut back on what you find the most of.)

“1. Carry a reusable bottle, fork/spoon and bag …

“2. Refuse the lid on your coffee cup. … (Some coffee shops will say they are required to give you a lid, citing possible liability for burns.)

“3. Choose products in glass or cans if they are an option. Recycle those materials. … Glass and aluminum cans are much more likely to be recycled. Glass is most efficient when reused (ie. with returnable milk bottles).

“4. When possible, eat in the restaurant instead of taking it to go. Unless you have a physical disability, let your server know in advance that you won’t need a straw.

“5. If you order takeout or delivery, tell the restaurant you don’t want plastic utensils or straws. …

“6. Opt for products with less packaging. Say no to bagged lemons, apples, onions and garlic, and tea that comes in plastic packets. Choose more fresh produce for snacks to avoid individual plastic wrappers.

“7. Shop from the bulk section and use your own containers. …

“8. Use bars of soap (also available for shampoo and shaving) instead of bottles. … For an extra environmental benefit, avoid palm oil.

“9. Use a razor that requires replacing only the individual blades. … You will save money over time. Note that TSA does not allow passengers to fly with individual blades.

“10. Use a bamboo toothbrush or one with a replaceable head.

“11. Buy concentrated cleaners that can be mixed with water in a reusable container. …

“12. Choose frozen, concentrated juice that comes in cardboard tubes instead of the plastic jugs. …

“13. Don’t buy bottled water. …

“14. Buy fewer clothes, or shop secondhand. Wash your clothes less so they last longer. Hang them to dry. …

“15. When shopping online, group as many items together as possible, so you can receive fewer plastic envelopes.”

More here.

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It all started with individuals making changes in their lives to avoid single-use plastic, then moved to small shops offering plastic-free shopping. Nothing wrong with that says the UK version of Wired, but what is really needed more is for large supermarket chains to get on board.

Nicole Kobie writes at Wired, “Plastic-free, zero-waste shops — which include Bulk Market and Harmless in London, and Refill Store in Truro, Cornwall — are a utopia for people looking to ditching single-use plastics, and have even inspired (or shamed) some larger retailers into following their lead and cutting down on packaging. …

“Using reusable containers has benefits; it avoids the environmental costs of manufacturing and disposing of single-use plastic packaging and reduces littering. [But] says Simon Aumônier, principal partner at Environmental Resources Management (ERM). ‘The issue is it’s not always as simple as that.’ … The overall environmental impact can be small compared to other choices, such as reducing meat consumption.

“Here’s how to make the most of shopping plastic-free, and why it matters what you buy, where you buy it, and how you carry it home.

“Plastic-free stores require shoppers to bring their own reusable containers (or buy them in-store) in which to ferry home their pasta, nuts and other dry goods.

Shunning single-use plastic means it doesn’t end up in landfill or choking a turtle. ‘Every time you use your own container, you’re cutting down the amount of plastic you would have been responsible for,’ says Clare Oxborrow, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“However, as with the plastic bag versus reusable tote debate, it matters what you use in place of the single-use plastic packaging, and how often you use it. …

” ‘Replacing a piece of single-use plastic packaging with a Tupperware container means you’ve got maybe ten times the material — therefore you need to reuse it maybe ten or 20 or 100 times before it’s a better solution in material consumption terms,’ says Aumônier. …

” ‘Glass and metal are more robust for the long term and can often then be recycled at the end of their life much more easily than plastic can,’ says Oxborrow. ‘Because of the way the system is set up, only about nine per cent of plastic ever made has been recycled. [We] have to stop using so much plastic in the first place.’ …

“There is a reason single-use plastic is used for packaging: it works. One study shows that cucumbers wrapped in plastic stay fresh for up to two weeks longer than ‘naked’ ones. And a cucumber that gets chucked in the compost bin is a waste of water and transport (and related emissions), regardless of how it was packaged. … Pasta, nuts and the like have a longer shelf-life, so are less likely to be wasted once brought home, and less likely to get damaged in store. …

“Biodegradable plastics are seen as one solution, but [Helen Bird, resource management specialist at WRAP] warns they aren’t necessarily as green as they may seem, as they also require fossil fuels to produce and often aren’t actually compostable. ‘To a large degree, the infrastructure that we have in place at the moment in the UK is not set up to make those plastics actually compost,’ she says – meaning they end up in landfill or are incinerated.

“Budgens in Thornton swapped paper for plastic bags on bread, Bird notes, but that led to problems as shoppers couldn’t see what they were buying. Sales slumped. … The supermarket has now found the right balance, with one store offering 1,700 plastic-free products, showing alternatives can be found.

“Plastic-free stores are usually locally-run businesses, and stock locally-produced food. While that has social benefits, whether local production has environmental benefits depends on the food in question. … How you get to the store also matters. If you’re walking or taking the bus to a local zero-waste store, you’re doing it right. …

“Local, simpler shopping doesn’t require a zero-waste store, of course — old-fashioned local butchers and greengrocers also fit the bill, though many high streets now lack them. ‘A lot of them shut down because they can’t compete with the supermarkets,’ notes Oxborrow. And that means we get into cars and drive to buy plastic-wrapped cucumbers instead. …

“Sarah Laidler, an analyst at the Carbon Trust, notes it’s best to buy locally grown and in-season, and to eat fruits and vegetables quickly so packaging isn’t required. ‘But vegetables don’t account for the bulk of carbon emissions in most people’s diets.’

“And then there’s processing. Those jars of dry beans and other ingredients are light to transport and easy to store, but require home cooking. …

Rather than try to calculate the merits of canned chickpeas versus dry, it makes more sense to make changes we know work, says Aumônier, such as only boiling the amount of water needed for a cup of tea and putting a lid on a saucepan to keep heat escaping.

” ‘These things can dramatically multiply the impact of the food and they’re easily overlooked.’ Laidler adds: ‘A key step Pepsi took to reduce the emissions of its Quaker Porridge Oats was to cook them more in the factory, so it was then cooked less at home.’ …

“And that’s the core issue at the heart of plastic-free stores: there are bigger changes we could make more easily. That doesn’t negate the positive impact of zero-waste shops, notes Bird, as they act as gateways to encouraging people to think when they shop — and they help shame larger supermarkets into action.

“Supermarkets are starting to clean up their act, albeit slowly. [It’s] better for everyone if the supermarkets themselves also change their practices, so the least amount of single-use plastic is used even for those who aren’t within striking distance of progressive shops in Dalston or Cornwall. ‘Ultimately we need to see the supermarkets embracing reuse culture,’ Bird says.” More at Wired, here.

You might be interested in etee, where I just bought a dish soap I’m testing to cut down on plastic bottles and the fossil-fuel consumption involved in transporting what is essentially a lot of water and only a little soap. And for coffee drinkers who compost, consider Dean’s Beans. However, you do need a really robust compost pile to break the bags down, we’ve found.

Part of the movement to bring your own containers to takeout restaurants or as a “doggy bag” after dining out is a shop is in Providence, RI.

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Photo: Dyson
Lucy Hughes, 23, a recent graduate in product design from the University of Sussex, is a James Dyson award winner for her biodegradable plastic made of fish scales.

Today’s story is a good example of how inventions can flow from recognition of a problem. For example, most of us now recognize that plastics are a problem. A recent design graduate took things a step further and did something about it.

Rebecca Smithers writes at the Guardian, “A bio-plastic made of organic fish waste that would otherwise end up in landfill, with the potential to replace plastic in everyday packaging, has landed its UK graduate designer a James Dyson award.

“Lucy Hughes, 23, a recent graduate in product design from the University of Sussex, sought to tackle the dual problems of environmentally harmful single-use plastics and inefficient waste streams by harnessing fish offcuts to create an eco-friendly plastic alternative.

“Her solution, a biodegradable and compostable material called MarinaTex, can break down in a soil environment in four to six weeks and be disposed of through home food waste collections.

“Hughes, from Twickenham, in south-west London, used red algae to bind proteins extracted from fish skins and scales, creating strong overlapping bonds in a translucent and flexible sheet material. Although it looks and feels like plastic, initial testing suggests it is stronger, safer and much more sustainable than its oil-based counterpart. …

“An estimated 492,020 tonnes of fish waste are produced by the fish processing industry every year in the UK and it is considered a huge and inefficient waste stream with low commercial value. …

“Through research carried out on the Sussex coast, Hughes found fish skins and scales were the most promising sources for the plastic alternative, due to their flexibility and strength-enabling proteins. A single Atlantic cod could generate the organic waste needed for 1,400 bags of MarinaTex, she found. …

“Hughes said, ‘It makes no sense to me that we’re using plastic, an incredibly durable material, for products that have a life cycle of less than a day. …

‘As creators, we should not limit ourselves to designing to just form and function, but rather form, function and footprint.’ …

“The award operates in 27 countries, and is open to university students and recent graduates studying product design, industrial design and engineering. It recognises and rewards imaginative design solutions to global problems.

“This year’s runners-up are an AI-enabled wearable device to help monitor asthmatic symptoms and predict triggers, designed by Anna Bernbaum, of the Dyson School of Engineering, in London, and solar panels which can be draped over backpacks or tents, invented by Bradley Brister, of Brunel University London.”

More here.

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Rhode Island has an outstanding independent, environmental news publication called ecoRI News. Who says local news is dead?

Well, actually, it is very much endangered and requires heroic efforts by those who understand its importance. Reporting at ecoRI News, for example, played a pivotal role in the rejection of an unnecessary new fossil-fuel plant in Burrillville, after a fight that lasted years (producing hostile stickers on utility poles throughout the state). The story may have been partly about quality of life in a small Rhode Island community, but as we now know, every bit of fossil fuel threatens the whole planet.

Local news addresses other issues that have international implications. As Tim Faulkner reported at ecoRI News in April, “Plastic pollution is everywhere, showing up in the air, water, food, and consequently in our bodies.

“To draw attention to this ubiquitous waste problem, plastic-catching traps, called trash skimmers, have been installed around Narragansett Bay to collect plastic debris and other trash in the marine environment.

“The latest skimmer was recently unveiled inside the hurricane barrier on the Providence River. It’s heralded as the first trash skimmer to be installed in a state capital.

“Using a pump to draw in debris, the partially submerged plastic box catches surface trash such as floating bottles and tiny debris called microparticles. Each skimmer costs about $12,000.

“Since 2017, three trash skimmers in Newport and one in Portsmouth have collected 27,000 pounds of trash. Cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, and foam debris are the most common items collected. The skimmers are emptied daily throughout most of the year by interns and student groups. Each contains between 20 and 200 pounds of daily trash. The skimmers have collected unusual items such as floating plastic disks from a wastewater treatment plant in East Providence.

“The project is run by Clean Ocean Access, the Middletown-based pollution advocacy group directed by David McLaughlin.

“ ‘The skimmer is the last line of defense for our oceans, and each installation allows for open, positive, and forward-thinking conversation of how to solve the local and global problem of litter and marine debris,’ McLaughlin said. …

“Plastic bags are one of the top items collected in the trash skimmers. So far, 10 Rhode Island municipalities — Barrington, Bristol, Jamestown, Middletown, New Shoreham, Newport, North Kingstown, Portsmouth, South Kingstown, and Warren — have enacted bans on plastic retail bags. East Providence, Providence, and Westerly are poised to pass bans. …

“The trash skimmer project is funded by 11th Hour Racing, a Newport-based funder of ocean stewardship initiatives. … Two skimmers are operating in Newport Harbor and a third is in the water off Fort Adams. Another is at New England Boat Works in Portsmouth. A trash skimmer is operating in Gloucester, Mass., and a new trash skimmer is scheduled to be unveiled in New Bedford Harbor during the week of Earth Day. Other skimmers are planned for Stamford, Conn., and possibly Fall River, Mass.”

More here.

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
The Providence trash skimmer, which helps to clear plastic waste from Rhode Island waters, is fixed to a floating dock below the riverfront deck at the Hot Club
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Photo: Ocean Sole
Says Ocean Sole: “We turn flip-flops into art and functional products and in turn raise visual awareness of the problem. … We are not only creating employment for a country that has 40% unemployment, but also sending a message about how we can help our planet.”

Around the world, flip flops have provided cheap footware for billions of people. Everyone loves them. Unfortunately, they’re part of the planet’s growing plastics and synthetics problem, a tsunami of trash that damages the environment and threatens marine life.

Some years ago, the company Ocean Sole was created to do something about that and at the same time provide employment in a high-unemployment region of Africa.

As Olivia Yasukawa and Thomas Page reported at CNN in 2017, “The shores of Watamu on the Kenyan coast should be pristine. They’re not. Downstream from an ecological disaster brewing a continent away, these placid waters are bearing the brunt of a foot-born problem: your flip flops. …

” ‘Over three billion people can only afford that type of shoe,’ says Erin Smith of Ocean Sole, a conservation group and recycling collective. ‘They hang on to them, they fix them, they duct tape them, mend them and then usually discard them.’ The average lifespan of a flip flop is two years, she adds.

“They’re ubiquitous, and the modern day synthetic rubber flip flop is not going away. In fact, tons of them are washing up on the East African coast. Reports suggest that at least eight million tons of plastic enters our oceans every year.

By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the seas by weight. …

” ‘We are actually receivers of pretty much the rest of the emerging world’s marine pollution,’ [Smith] argues. And a significant quantity of the pollution which appears on East Africa’s beaches come from discarded flip flops — approximately 90 tons a year. … They’re not only an eyesore, but a direct health hazard, and with no hope of biodegrading.

” ‘Our founder Julie Church back in the 90s discovered an entire beach … was just covered in flip flops,’ Smith says. ‘What she saw were not just dead fish that had been trying to eat in their natural habitat, but turtles unable to come up on to land and actually hatch. [The pollution] started to kill the plant life, it started to kill the crabs on the sand … we have deserted beaches that used to have communities there, that used to be able to fish, and the whole ecosystem has been ruined by this massive increase in marine pollution.’

“Matilda Mathias, a debris collector from the ‘Blue Team’ in Watamu, cites the benefits to the tourist industry when the beaches are clean, and says ‘we also benefit from the money.’

“Most of the detritus is recycled, some is reused, but in the case of flip flops, they’re upcycled. Ocean Sole has trained a team of 40-or-so artisans in a workshop in Nairobi to craft sculptures from these pre-owned, unloved objects into a source of income. Importing flip flops from recycling crews along the East Coast and from as far away as Zanzibar, Smith estimates the Ocean Sole team can repurpose approximately 800,000 flip flops a year. …

“There’s little chance artisans will run out of raw material any time soon as long as our flip flop habit remains.

” ‘I think it’s time for us to start looking for an alternative shoe, or an alternative material, to fit that kind of fashion need,’ argues Smith.”

More at Ocean Sole, here, and at CNN, here.

Warthog made of recycled flip flops by Ocean Sole. Many zoo gift shops carry these products.

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Photo: Evening Standard
According to a UK newspaper, environmentally aware millennials are driving increased demand for milk in glass bottles. Plastic bottles are out.

I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful about cutting down on household items that aren’t good for the environment. But sometimes I’m a little clueless, carrying the recycling to the street on a regular basis and not noticing that all our milk comes in plastic bottles.

The last couple weeks, though, I’ve been buying cardboard bottles of milk. Unfortunately, they are not for sale everywhere and they cost more. That’s why the following story about the new popularity of glass bottles caught my attention. There is no milk delivery where I live, but it’s definitely available where Suzanne lives.

In England, Ella Wills reports at the Evening Standard, “milkmen and milkwomen are making a comeback in London as millennials have started using glass milk bottles in a bid to cut down plastic waste.

“Dairies in the capital told of a ‘phenomenal’ upsurge in interest from younger customers at the start of the year amid growing public upset over plastic waste.

“Both UK-wide company milk&more and east London dairy Parker Dairies have seen increased demand for glass bottles in 2018, citing David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II as the ‘catalyst’ for the new uptake. The firms said younger consumers and families seem willing to pay more for the service in a bid to help the environment. …

“The industry body [Dairy UK] said figures showed doorstep deliveries make up 3 per cent of milk sales in the UK — around 1 million pints per day — and glass milk bottles make up 3 per cent of all milk sales. But depot manager of Parker Dairies Paul Lough said interest of late in glass bottles has been ‘absolutely phenomenal.’

“He said the dairy, which has a fleet of 25 electric milk floats covering all of east London, the city and the West End, has gained 382 new customers since the beginning of the year. Of these new calls, 95 per cent are having milk delivered in glass bottles. …

“And the dairy has attracted a younger clientele, Mr Lough said, meaning the firm has expanded its product line to cater to the new demographic.

“ ‘Without a doubt [they are younger],’ he said. ‘That is why we are trying to change our product list. We do sourdough and honeys. … We sell 250 loaves a week to new customers.’

“Meanwhile, UK company milk&more said it has gained more than 2,500 new customers in [February] — the equivalent of five new milk rounds. And some 90 per cent of these customers across the country are ordering in the iconic glass bottles. …

“Milkman Ian Beardwell has been doing the same round in Wimbledon for Hanworth Dairy for 27 years. He said: ‘Since Blue Planet that has been the catalyst of the revival in glass. I used to do 550 calls before and in four weeks I’ve gained another 35 to 40 calls — 90 per cent glass.’ …

“Patrick Müller, managing director of milk&more, [added that] new customers were aged around 35 years old, coming from young families with a double income. … ‘Customers [said] they enjoy the experience of the glass bottle — the childhood memories — and they want to reduce their plastic wastage.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Teenage sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen of Bali have received many honors for their efforts to ban plastic bags. Here they’re seen accepting the 2017 “Award for Our Earth” from Germany’s Bambi Awards.

An impressive phenomenon that’s emerging as climate change threatens communities and plastic waste clogs waterways is the emergence of children and teens as leaders — in particular, young people from developing nations.

Consider this story from National Public Radio [NPR].

“Five years ago, two young women decided they were going to do something about the plastic problem on their island of Bali. And Bye Bye Plastic Bags was born.

“How young?” asks NPR reporter Michael Sullivan. “So young one of them couldn’t make it to our midweek interview. ‘She’s at school,’ explained 18-year-old Melati Wijsen, talking about her 16-year-old sister Isabel. ‘She’s just halfway through grade 11 and she’s putting her focus more into graduating high school.’

“Bali is part of the island nation of Indonesia, which is the world’s second biggest polluter when it comes to marine plastic, trailing only China. And when ocean currents carry that plastic to the tourist island of Bali, it’s a public relations nightmare. This video taken by British diver Rich Horner last year pretty much sums up the scale of the problem as he tries to navigate through a sea of plastic just below the water’s surface.

“The two sisters got the idea for Bye Bye Plastic Bags in 2013 after a lesson at school about influential world leaders — change-makers — including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

” ‘My sister and I went home that day thinking, “Well, what can we do as kids living on the island of Bali?” ‘ Melati Wijsen says. … The answer was right in front of them. Literally. On the beach in front of their home. …

” ‘It got to the point where on weekends when we would go to our childhood beach, if we went swimming there, a plastic bag would wrap around your arm,’ Wijsen says. …

“They went online and discovered that over 40 countries had already banned or taxed plastic bags.

” ‘We thought, “Well, if they can do it, c’mon, Bali! C’mon, Indonesia! We can do it, too!” ‘ Wijsen says. …

“They got some friends together, went online to start a petition and got 6,000 signatures in less than a day, Wijsen says. They spread awareness through school and community workshops. They organized massive beach cleanup campaigns, all the while drawing international attention and that of local politicians too. Especially when they decided to up the ante optics-wise.

” ‘I think one of the biggest tools that pushed us forward was our decision to go on a food strike,’ Wijsen says, inspired, she says, by one of the tools used by Gandhi. ‘He also had peaceful ways of reaching his goals, of getting attention, So that was a huge inspiration for us.’

“[The governor did] what any savvy politician would do when faced with two teenage girls threatening a hunger strike. He invited them to come see him. ‘Within 24 hours, we had a phone call and then the next day we were picked up from school and escorted to the office of the governor,’ Wijsen says.

“[Governor] Pastika signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the sisters to work toward eliminating plastic on the island. … Melati Wijsen says she learned a lot about dealing with politicians. …

” ‘Being 14 and skipping school on a Tuesday because I had to learn about draft regulations and suggestions really was an interesting learning curve for me,’ she says. Dancing with politicians, she says, is like three steps forward, two steps back and again, and again. ‘It’s almost like the cha-cha.’ …

“Just last month, the new governor of Bali announced a law banning single-use plastic in 2019, thanks in part to the sisters’ efforts and those of like-minded NGOs. …

” ‘We literally prove that kids can do things, and Bye Bye Plastic Bags has become this platform where kids can feel like their voices are being heard. … This is my No. 1 focus right now,’ she says. ‘It consumes almost every thought in my body. I mean, it’s like a full-time job.’

“Is she obsessed or just focused? ‘A healthy chunk of both,’ she says, laughing, adding that her mother helps keep her balanced. ‘Some days, she’ll just be like, “Melati, take a day off, like go to the beach with your friends and just don’t pick up the plastic, just sit there.” ‘ ” More at NPR, here.

I have to give a shout-out to teachers like the ones who motivated these teens. Can anyone doubt that teachers are important?

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Photo: Margarita Talep/Dezeen.com
Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae. Natural vegetable dyes such as cabbage, beetroot, and carrot produce different shades.

As scary as the photos of plastic-filled oceans, rivers — and whales — may be, I remind myself that many people are working to cut out plastic in their lives and others are inventing biodegradable plastic substitutes.

Consider this story by Natashah Hitti at Dezeen.com, “Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae.

“Disappointed by the abundance of non-recyclable materials currently used to contain food products, Talep decided to develop her own eco-friendly packaging that would stand in for plastic. …

“According to the designer, the material only includes natural matter, including the dyes used to colour it, which are extracted from the skins of fruits and vegetable such as blueberries, purple cabbage, beetroot and carrot.

“The basic mixture is made up of a polymer, a plasticiser and an additive, with the amounts of each ingredient varying depending on the desired consistency of the final product. …

“To make a material that bears a close resemblance to thin plastic, Talep boils the agar mixture to around 80 degrees celsius, before transferring the molten liquid onto a mould.

“When the liquid drops to a temperature below 20 degrees celsius, it takes on a gel-like consistency. This is then left to dry in a well-ventilated environment with a constant temperature, until it becomes similar to paper or thin plastic.

“The bioplastic packaging is especially suited to containing dry food products. It is best sealed with heat rather than glue in a bid make the end result as natural as possible. …

“The material takes around two months to decompose in summer temperatures, depending on the thickness, and about three to four months to decompose completely in winter.

” ‘I believe that bio-fabrication will be an important part of future industries,’ said Talep. ‘As long as all the processes of extracting these raw materials and their manufacture are done with environmental awareness. But it is not enough just to create new materials. These different solutions to the huge environmental problem must work in parallel with other action.

” ‘Different nations should implement action plans for reducing the amount of plastic waste produced by introducing more circular economy projects, keeping plastic in a cyclical system to prevent it from ending up at landfill or in the sea,’ Talep suggests.”

Read more at Dezeen.com, here. The zine has lots of other great ideas for making a more sustainable world.

Also, to read about young people who are taking action, check out Kids Against Plastic, here.

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Photo: Kalume Kazungu / Nation Media Group
The Flipflopi dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic being prepared on January 24, 2019, to start its inaugural journey from Lamu to Zanzibar.

I like listening to Public Radio International’s The World because it gives me a window on what’s going on in other countries. People living elsewhere on Plant Earth often know what’s going on in the US, but here most of us have blinders on. It’s as if nothing happens anywhere else unless it affects us directly and immediately.

But all people are concerned about the things that concern us, and many are taking action unheralded in America. Some of the most energetic environmentalists are the residents of poor countries who’ve been most hurt by climate change (see Mary Robinson’s eye-opening book Climate Justice) or who have the most plastic clogging their waterways and beaches.

Consider this story about Kenyans trying to raise the consciousness of their own countrymen and others in Africa.

Kalume Kazungu and Eunince Murathe reported in January at Kenya’s Daily Nation, “The dhow made entirely from recycled marine plastic, the world’s first, has set sail from Lamu Old Town and is headed to Stone Town, Zanzibar. … Aboard 16 crew members, all who were involved in the invention of the vessel, will sail south along the coast of Kenya. …

“The Flipflopi’s maiden journey is meant to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution. … It is sailing for approximately 50 to 80 kilometres a day whilst simultaneously broadcasting the #Plasticrevolution message to a global audience. …

“The Flipflopi team will make several stops where they will be visiting schools, communities and government officials as they discuss solutions and changing mind-sets concerning plastic wastes and the importance of maintaining a clean environment free of plastics.

“[Dhow builder Ali] Skanda said he is confident that the Flipflopi will assist in raising awareness on the danger of using plastics and dumping them anyhow along the beaches.

” ‘We are set for our journey to Zanzibar. We will be passing through various towns along the Coast where we will be making some stops to educate the dwellers on how they can maintain clean beaches as well as avoiding plastic disposal on our ocean beaches.

“ ‘Through the Flipflopi invention, we hope people around the world are inspired to find their own ways to repurpose already used plastic so as to maintain clean beaches which are free of plastic wastes,’ said Mr Skanda.

“Mr Shafi Shetai, a Flipflopi crew member, said he believes the dhow will serve to reinforce the need for continued adherence to the already existing plastic ban since it demonstrates how the increasing amounts of plastic garbage can affect not only marine life but also the lives of residents and the economy.

“Mr Shetai said apart from the existing ban on plastic bags, the government should also ban other plastic materials used daily including straws since they are also posing a challenge to the environment. …

“The venture is aptly named the Flipflopi Project as the boat was built by traditional dhow makers led by Mr Skanda using thousands of repurposed flip-flops and ocean plastic collected on beach clean-ups along the Kenyan Coast. Limiting themselves to locally available technology and materials, the builders collected discarded plastics, shredded them into small pieces, then heated them and remolded them. They then carved the plastic parts exactly the same way they would do to wood.”

Read more at the Daily Nation, here. And for additional details, check out the UN Environment press release on the topic, here.

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Photo: ABC Rural/ Jess Davis
To avoid using plastic, Allen Short has made more than 3,000 small berry baskets from recycled timber donated by makers of wood veneer.

Many of us have been trying to phase out our use of plastic, starting with single-use plastic, and smart companies are focused on meeting the demand.

Biofase in Mexico, for example, takes unwanted avocado pits and makes things like picnic cutlery and straws that biodegrade sustainably. I was especially glad to hear about Biofase after people complained they hated the paper straws our eco-conscious ice cream place started using — and caused the ice cream parlor to switch back to plastic. As visions of plastic-straw-choked sea turtles danced in my head, I thought I’d better let that shop know there was a better alternative than paper for getting rid of plastic straws.

Farmers, too, are working on ways to reduce their plastic footprint — and save money.

As Jess Davis reported at ABC Rural in Australia last summer, “Gippsland beef producer Paul Crock believes he can go plastic-free, despite being in an industry reliant on single-use plastics.

” ‘Without putting too fine a point on it, meat uses a lot of plastic,’ he said. … Mr Crock said it was needed for health and hygiene. Plus, vacuum packing increases shelf life by up to eight weeks.

“Mr Crock is in discussions with European companies that are looking at plastic alternatives, and he has even floated the idea of casings for meat, similar to what you would find on the outside of a sausage. …

” ‘We want to be remaining ahead of the curve and looking at ways we can minimise plastic.’

“But Melbourne butcher Tony Montesano said there was no easy solution.

” ‘Unfortunately you’ve got to use some [plastic]. You can’t exactly have just a flesh of meat. Where do you put it? You can’t exactly put it in your pockets.’

“Mr Montesano allows his customers to bring their own containers to the deli, but that is not something the two major supermarkets allow. …

“Fruit and vegetables also rely heavily on plastic packaging. Allen Short is doing his part to reduce plastic in the berry industry by making punnets [small berry baskets] out of offcuts from the timber industry.

“He started making the punnets for his neighbour, who grows strawberries near Daylesford in central Victoria, and had so far made more than 3,000. …

“Mr Short approached the Timber Veneer Association, which helped him out with scraps. Now, it deliberately sets aside the offcuts at no cost.

 ‘All these [veneer pieces] were just going into landfill, so now they’re being stacked up and given to us and we’re making full use of them,’ he said. …

“While he hoped more people would get on board with sustainable packaging, scaling up an operation like his for the industry at large would be more difficult.

” ‘We’re not going to change the industry but we’re going to do our little bit. And I can’t help but think that taking someone else’s waste product and turning it into a useful thing is a good thing.’ ” I will add that everyone doing their bit is also a good thing.

Read more at ABC, here.

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Photo: Didem Tali
Seng Super is a co-founder of La Chhouk, a Cambodian creative fashion initiative that makes clothing out of recyclables. The group, which includes gay and straight designers, hopes to both encourage people to reduce trash and also “show people that LGBT individuals are capable of creating beautiful things.”

Never underestimate the power of a creative mind to make something lovely out of something ugly. I remember surprising myself with how much I loved certain luminous oil paintings of factories spewing out air pollution. The sad Depression-era photos of Appalachian poverty also have a certain beauty. These works draw you to them without any undertone of “poverty is good” or “pollution is good.”

In Cambodia, young designers aren’t repurposing plastic to praise it but, you might say, to bury it.

Didem Tali writes at the South China Morning Post, “Members of the recycling collective La Chhouk started with a dress made from brown rice sacks decorated with beer bottle tops and broken CDs which was later worn by a Miss Cambodia runner-up at an international beauty pageant.

“Most visitors to Cambodia are eager to see the ancient temple complex of Angkor or the beaches of Sihanoukville, but there is one sight they may want to shield their eyes from: mountains of plastic bags, bottles and styrofoam boxes. …

” ‘Plastic waste is everywhere,’ says Seng Super, a 22-year-old Cambodian designer. ‘It’s in the streets, rivers, lakes. It’s very upsetting.’

“Seng Super studied at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. He was born in the 1990s, a time when millions of Cambodians were beginning to lift themselves out of extreme poverty, bringing environmental degradation in its wake.

“For many young and urban Cambodians, pollution is a huge concern. So when it was time to prepare for the university’s annual art show in 2014, Seng Super and his classmates decided to create a project that would challenge people to rethink their wasteful ways. The result, La Chhouk, is a creative fashion initiative geared towards making clothing out of trash and other recyclable materials. …

“Seng Super and his classmates wanted not only to challenge the way Cambodians think of waste, but also capture their attention in the most remarkable and elegant way. Using only recyclable materials they found in the trash, they created several flamboyant dresses of the sort usually worn by traditional apsara dancers. …

“Many people thought the goal was too far-fetched and ambitious – especially as none of them had any training in fashion. That is why the designers named their collective La Chhouk, which means ‘lotus’ in Cambodia’s Khmer language.

“ ‘The lotus is a beautiful flower that can grow in muddy or dirty waters,’ Seng Super says. ‘We thought it was a beautiful metaphor for what we wanted to do with trash and our dresses.’ …

“Last year the members of La Chhouk were given a vote of confidence for what many regarded as a wacky project when Em Kunthong, first runner-up in the Miss Cambodia 2016-17 beauty pageant, opted to wear the dress for the Miss Earth environmental awareness beauty competition held in the Philippines.

“ ‘This dress represents the perfect Cambodian woman,’ Seng Super says … ‘She’s empowered, close to the Earth and strong like a bull. She has the soul of a wild cow, which is a very important element of Cambodian identity and culture.’ …

“Since the creation of that first apsara dress, La Chhouk has gone on to design dozens of other dresses inspired by Cambodian culture and mythology. In a recent project called Saving Wild, they sought to bring attention to animals facing extinction in Cambodia, such as the Indochinese tiger, river dolphins and various bird species. Seng Super designed dresses representing these animals using plastic waste.

“The project is ongoing, and the collective recently held an exhibition in collaboration with the WWF and Tiger Beer.

“The collective’s members still hold down day jobs to pay the bills, and work on their recycled fashion projects in the evenings and on weekends.” More here.

Hat Tip: @BeingFarhad onTwitter

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Photo: South West News Service
Pat Smith, married mother of two, grandmother, and owner of a B&B in Cornwall, cleaned plastic from 52 English beaches in 2018 and is still going strong.

Doesn’t 2019 feel like the year that environmentalism will pick up more proponents than ever? Thanks to activists and journalists, people are really up in arms about the plastic that’s defacing our beautiful beaches and about what fossil fuels and giant agribusinesses are doing to the climate. Humanity seems to take steps forward and then take steps back, but I feel like this is a forward year.

Consider these three anti-plastic, anti-litter stories.

Maddy Foley writes at Inverse about the origins of plogging, which is a “mash-up of ‘jogging’ and plocka uppa, the Swedish word for ‘picking up.’ …

“Plogging first emerged in 2016,” she says, “started — or at least branded — by Erik Ahlström, following his move from a resort town to Stockholm. Ahlström was reportedly struck by the amount of trash he passed by during regular runs — so he began picking it up along the way, often sporting medical gloves. Soon Ahlström was organizing community runs throughout the city, marrying environmental advocacy with sensible amounts of exercise.

“The practice supposedly grew from the long-standing Swedish philosophy of lagom, the Goldielocks of lifestyle tenets. Meaning ‘not too much, not too little.’ Lagom values moderation; it heralds the pleasure of existence, without being seduced by the lure of consumption.

“In plogging, those tenets translate to picking up some trash (not every single piece), while jogging (not sprinting). It’s about being out in the world, while accepting that it’s become a world beset by trash.” More at Inverse.

There’s also a nice story at Public Radio International’s The World about Ripu Dama, a long-distance runner in India who caught the plogging bug and who recently spread the word on a run through Europe.

Marco Werman reports on Dama’s efforts in India, “Dama, who is being called ‘India’s first plogger,’ is spreading a message of physical activity and environmental protection in Mumbai while participating and organizing clean ups — documenting everything on social media @ploggersofindia.

“ ‘I’m a runner. I run marathons and ultras. When you’re a runner and you run in the mornings, the thing that you observe most is trash and plastic. So [members of my running group and I] were already cleaning up individually. In 2017, we came across the term “plogging” and we thought “this is exactly what we do.” It was kind of becoming a global trend.’ …

“Dama hopes to make an impact on the younger generations. … ‘Schoolchildren take it up like fish to water. And that’s been the biggest high out of all of this. When we are doing this activity in our local parks or somewhere and kids see us doing it … they just come and join us and the habits that get inculcated at this young age will last a lifetime.’ ” Listen to the PRI interview here.

But wait! You don’t need to be a runner or a kid.

As Ed Riley writes at the Daily Mail, an English grandmother walked 52 beaches in 2018 cleaning up plastic, and she has no intention of slowing down.

Pat Smith, “founder of the environmental campaign group Final Straw Cornwall, said: ‘Doing 52 beach cleans in 2018 was my New Year’s Resolution and it’s finally done. I won’t stop as our beaches need me.

” ‘A lot of the rubbish I have picked up consists of everyday items. These things are used by all of us and it is shocking to find them polluting our beautiful beaches. …

” ‘I’m driven to try and protect our living planet for my children and grandchildren, and I will continue to do everything in my power to achieve that. …

” ‘I grew up in the generation where plastic use was at its worse. … [But] even though it was everywhere, we had no plastic at home — we would walk to the shops or get the bus to get groceries.’

“Mrs Smith said that she was often joined by other volunteers who were determined to keep our beaches clean. But she said not everyone understood, and on some occasions, she would be mistaken for doing community service.

“She said: ‘People don’t understand I’ve been doing this voluntarily. We should all take responsibility for picking up the litter, as well as ensuring we don’t drop litter in the first place.’ ” More at the Daily Mail, here.

If you are ever in Cornwall, you might consider staying at Mrs. Smith’s B&B. She sounds like a good person to know.

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Photo: Sophia Evans for the Observer
The Maidment family in England are focused on making their daily lives as free of plastic as possible and spreading the word at Plastic-Free Hackney.

It seems like only yesterday that a guy in the 1967 movie The Graduate told Dustin Hoffman’s character that his future lay in plastics.

McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Ah, yes. Plastics had a future, all right. In the blink of an eye, they have become a nightmare for the planet, refusing to disintegrate in landfills, clogging oceans, cluttering city streets.

There are many things made of plastic that we may always need. I’m thinking of certain medical uses. But what about all the things we use that really don’t need to be made of plastic. Can we make a dent in those? Here’s a family in England that’s trying.

Nosheen Iqbal reports at the Guardian, “Bettina Maidment … is the founder of Plastic Free Hackney, a campaign to rid the east London borough of single-use plastic and has been serious about committing her family to plastic-free, zero-waste living for two years now. First to go was milk cartons. ‘That was an easy switch, we got a milkman.’

“Then came bamboo toothbrushes, swapping out supermarket shopping for the local greengrocer, and making deodorant, cleanser, moisturiser and handsoap at home. She opens her fridge to reveal shelves of glass jars and reusable containers; her larder is stocked with lentils, pasta, porridge and the like, bought in bulk and stored in glass or canvas bags. …

“She is not alone. As public anger grows over the environmental impact of single-use plastic, trying to live plastic-free and more sustainably has become a mainstream concept.

“ ‘There was a huge uptick in the conversation after Blue Planet about how to reduce plastic use and it remains, by quite a margin, the single biggest topic area people call us for,’ says Julian Kirby, lead campaigner on plastics at Friends of the Earth. ‘In my experience, the amount of public concern for this environmental issue is unprecedented,’ he says. ‘It’s been phenomenal.’ …

“ ‘My interest was piqued online and I saw how other people were doing it and slowly started reducing my waste.’ She opened an Instagram account [@plasticfreehackney] to document the process of going plastic-free. …

“For Kiran Harrison, 43, who works as a massage therapist and storyteller in Worthing, West Sussex.the impetus to go plastic-free came around the time her son, now nine months, was born. She visited her local cloth nappy [diaper] library, where parents can loan reusable nappies, and gradually began swapping out the plastics in her home. …

“Support from a fast-growing zero-waste community in Sussex has also helped; a plastic-free, zero-waste food store has recently arrived in Worthing.

“ ‘Some people are cynical about how you can sustain a lifestyle like this,’ she admits, ‘or cynical about making a small contribution when big companies produce so much waste, but I’m not down with the “what’s the point of doing anything, we’re all doomed” brigade – it’s far too apathetic for my liking.’

Harrison’s top tip is to ‘do things gradually so they become a habit. Trying to do everything at once is overwhelming.’

“Friends of the Earth, which established a UK network in 1970, launched its #plasticfreefriday campaign [last] February. … According to a UN report published in June, the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled stands at 90.5% – a figure so alarming that it was declared the winning international statistic of 2018 by the Royal Statistical Society.

“Waleed Akhtar, an actor from London, … uses beeswax wraps rather than clingfilm for his sandwiches and carries a reusable water bottle, bamboo cutlery, Tupperware and a reusable bag everywhere he goes. … ‘I used to drink bottled water every day, but I did a play called Fracked!, and a monologue in it about the impact of water bottles on the environment kicked it all off for me.’ …

“THE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE …
“Use a reusable water bottle …
“Carry a reusable cup …
“Switch to solid soaps …
“Say no to disposable cutlery …
“Brush with bamboo.”

Some of these are super easy to do — like handing back plastic forks and spoons the takeout restaurant puts in your bag. More at the Guardian, here.

For past posts on this challenge, search SuzannesMomsBlog on the word plastic. A sample of articles: a bike path made of recycled plastic in the Netherlands, a plastic-eating microbe, a trash wheel that rounds up plastic on waterways.

This beeswax cling wrap is washable and reusable but quite expensive. I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve tried it.

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Our New Year’s Eves are quiet these days. We watched an Agatha Christie on television and went to sleep. But I’ve been saving a suitable tile from the New York subway system since my October trip to visit my sister, so here it is and Happy New Year!

2018 was not a good year for my sister, who was diagnosed with a bad brain cancer in July. But it was also a year we learned to be grateful for things like a clean surgery and cancer treatments without bad side effects. My perspective changed.

My perspective on the nation and on the future of the planet and my own role in it has also been evolving. I began to suspect that, other than our Bill of Rights, our country may not be as special as we thought. After all, all countries think they are special. And even the Bill of Rights can’t survive unless we commit to protecting it and interpreting it justly. Surely none of those rights were intended to lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans every year. Perhaps 2018 was a turning point.

I’ve also been giving more thought to my role in global warming. Do I make too many unnecessary car trips when I could walk or take public transportation? Do I serve the family too much meat, especially beef? Should I find a way to plant more trees? I know I need to stop sneaking around the local laws against plastic bags and find a sustainable alternative.

I will be writing more about initiatives to protect the planet and will be looking for ideas to apply in my own life from you and from websites like 1MillionWomen. By the way, I learned about 1MillionWomen from a wonderful book called Climate Justice, by Mary Robinson. I hope you will put it on your list. It shows how the poorest communities are the first to feel the crunch of global warming and how, if we pay attention to those communities, we will also be taking arm against the sea of troubles that threatens us all.

Even better, the book shows how extraordinarily effective ordinary people can be when they have simply had enough.

 

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