Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Whole New Way of Thinking

Not exactly all-about-plastics, but closely related...and as with every manufactured "thing" these days...plastic is involved somewhere in the chain. The following is a trailer for Manufactured Landscapes, a film about the backside of our consumption - where does all that stuff go when we're "finished" with it? What struck me about this and what made me want to post it on the RAP blog is the very heart of the Rise Above Plastics message - the closing line of the trailer says, "It's not a simple 'right' or 'wrong' - it needs a whole new way of thinking."

Rise. Above. Conventional. "Wisdom".

'nuff said!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Helping Barney Take Care of His Pelagic Bretheren!

I find that a reason that many people use to keep plastic shopping bags around is that they are needed to dispose of their pet waste. When they leave the house or apartment they grab a couple of "old" plastic grocery bags and take Barney out to get some exercise and do his business. Well how exactly are Barney, his poo and you affecting our earth and oceans?

  • Estimates vary, but between 500 BILLION and 1 TRILLION plastic bags are consumed annually worldwide.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States consumes 100 billion plastic shopping bags which take an estimated 12 million barrels of oil to produce.
  • Plastic bags contribute to the deaths of an estimated 100,000 plus sea turtles, seals, whales and dolphins every year and an estimated 1 million seabirds! Refer to the previous posting to see just how big of an impact this has made in Manhattan Beach, California
  • Plastic bags are among the 12 most common things found in Marine Debris
So what if Barney doesn't want to do damage to our oceans every time nature calls? Don't worry there is hope for you and Barney! Yes, there is an alternative for using plastic bags to dispose of pet waste. There are now pet waste bags that are made out of water soluble PVA film. This allows you to take Barney for his walk, let him do his business, pick up after him and then flush the waste down YOUR toilet, NOT the local storm drain. The bag dissolves in the water in less than a minute and the fecal matter is sent to your local water treatment plant where it can be properly handled and treated!

A company that I have recently started buying these bags from is ECOmmitted and the bags are called "Flush Puppies"!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Turtle Bags?

Paper, plastic...or did you bring your Turtle Bag today?

True-life story, ghost-posted for author Anna Donlin,

of West LA / Malibu Surfrider chapter (& Brazil) fame.


While waiting for my coffee at the Bristol Farms in Manhattan Beach recently, one of the store’s grocery checkout ladies came by to say hello to the barrista that was serving me. “Galveston is gone.” said the checkout lady after they exchanged hellos. She had just returned from visiting family in Texas after the recent tropical storm had hit there. Being curious, I joined their conversation.

The checkout lady noticed that I’d brought my own ceramic mug, which changed the conversation to plastics. I mentioned that the take out cup lids, as extruded styrene (Styrofoam), were not recyclable, and that me bringing my own cup was a way that I could reduce waste. She was impressed by the idea. Then the checkout lady brought up the North Pacific Gyre, beating me to it. “It’s awful,” she said, after asking if I knew what it was, swirling her hand in the clockwise circular motion of the gyre. “Yeah, the size of Texas,” I said. She then brought up an experience at the checkout where a customer didn’t believe there was any problem with using plastic, and was brusque about it, asking for a plastic bag explicitly. She gave him his plastic bag…

She got me thinking about the job of being a checkout person. How much plastic do they see used every day? Are they even aware of things or do they battle their conscious when handing out plastic bags like this woman does? How can they be educated/empowered in a Rise Above Plastics campaign?

Then there was one last thing the checkout lady wanted to tell me. Her niece in the UK and her schoolmates use recyclable lunch bags they call “Turtle Bags.” Turtle Bags because plastic bags kill turtles they say. Using the Turtle Bags save turtles. These schools and children have made the association. Let’s import the Turtle Bag idea! It’s much more fun and easier to say than “recyclable bag.”

I left with the checkout lady saying that she was now going to start using a ceramic mug for her coffee and with me declaring that I was so impressed about Turtle Bags story that I’m writing about it here. I love these exchanges where everyone learns something and leaves a little richer for it.

Anna Donlin

Monday, November 17, 2008

Now Packaged With Less Plastic!

In preparing for an upcoming trip I decided I needed some more memory cards for the camera. Costco has the best prices, but I dreaded facing the ubiquitous bulky plastic packaging that comes with buying anything small at Costco. But instead of a huge blister pack with a tiny memory card inside, I found a cardboard placard that I took to the checkout. From there I took my receipt and the placard to Merchandise Pickup and got my memory cards. Much to my pleasant surprise, they were packaged in a small paper packet with only a small plastic window. When I got home I noticed that the lack of plastic was intentional. See photo below: "Now packaged with LESS PLASTIC."

One of our goals with RAP was to find ways to reduce plastic packaging, which is so wasteful and unnecessary. Bravo to SanDisk for taking that step with their products. As I tell people, vote with your dollars, and buy products with the least amount of packaging. Here is a great example!

Power to The Children!

I am a firm believer in the power of children.

Their minds are open to new ideas and new ways of seeing the world around them. For a child it is often simply black or white and right or wrong. They couldn't care less about industry lobbyists, political wrangling or economics, they just want a cleaner, better planet to live on.

This article from Canada's Globeandmail.com dated November 12 illustrates this very well. A group of sixth graders armed with a poster, a petition and facts headed down to city hall to have their voices heard along with lobbyists and activists!

Students call for ban on plastic bags

Grade 6 class will appear at City Hall as council debates 10-cent discount for going bag-free

With a report from Jennifer Lewington

Look out, you plastics and fast-food industry lobbyists trying to shoot down a city crackdown on packaging waste: A group of precocious, well-researched 11-year-olds in sweater vests and kilts has you in its sights and wants the city to go even further, demanding a ban on plastic bags.


Friday, November 14, 2008

21st Century Waterfall

another reminder to remember your reusable bottle...

Since its recent popularization, bottled water (in all its flavors) has become one of the most consumed, yet least recycled beverages. For example, it is estimated that in 2005 alone approximately 30 billion plastic water bottles were purchased, with only about 12% recycled (in part due to out-dated deposit laws). The remaining 25 billion bottles were either landfilled, littered or incinerated. Obviously that's a lot of bottles, but statistics involving "billions of bottles per year" can be difficult to put into perspective.

This computer animation provides a simple visual comparison of the rate at which plastic water bottles were recycled (approx. 100 bottles/second) to the nonrecycled rate (approx. 845 bottles/second; see image) in 2005. To make it more compelling we simulated and rendered both torrents of plastic water bottles using custom multibody dynamics, collisions, finite-element structural vibrations and sound synthesis.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Brita turns up the heat on their ads

Brita is pushing things with their new campaign. The copy says "last year 16 million gallons of oil were consumed to make plastic water bottles."

I don't think many people make the link between the stunning amount of bottled water and use of oil. The Pacific Institute calculated that it takes 3.264 fl oz. of petroleum to make the average plastic bottle.

The math...
17 mil BBL / 28 bil bottles = 0.000607 BBL/bottle
1 BBL = 42 gal
0.000607 BBL/bottle * 42 gal/BBL = 0.0255 gal/bottle
1 gal = 128 fl oz
0.0255 gal/bottle * 128 fl oz/gal = 3.264 fl oz/bottle
More info on that math here.

Buy a bottle that you can use over and over and over here. Or get one with our messaging on it here.

Better yet, buy a whole-house water filter by Brita here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Recycling: Missing the Point..."by That Much"

Reduce, Reuse, then…

…and only in case of emergency, RECYCLE.

Recycling seemed to start as a “good” thing way back when, before drinks were dispensed in plastic bottles, but now (at least IMHO) often suffices for the knee-jerk feel-good justification for picking up a few extra pallets of individual-serving drink bottles, sold in single-use plastics. “It’s OK, I’m gonna recycle them!” – YAY for the environment! Not so fast, Jolly “Green” Giant…

One of the original tenants of the Rise Above Plastics campaign was that yes, “we all rely and use many forms of plastics each and everyday – but much of that use is a convenience choice, a choice that can be swayed toward the proper environmental path, often requiring no more effort on your part”…and sometimes, increasing the fun factor in life (bond with other weirdos that bring their own reusable bottles/cups to the local coffee joint), while helping you burn-in new synapses into your noggin that come with the adoption of new actions and habits.

Even if 99% of all single-use plastics (SUPs) make it to the recycler (the hard part) and are actually recycled (the unknown part), then we still have a monumental environmental waste problem (the tangible part). The dang stuff is produced in unbelievable volumes AND just doesn’t go away! It takes energy & resources to create/ship/dispose-of that bottle that really only has a useful lifetime of ~15 mins, then takes more energy and resources to render it into something yet again. Waste, followed by waste, and compounded by waste. Lots of efforts put together just to produce and handle waste – efforts that, when realized as a waste, can and should be avoided. Nothing worse than wasted efforts – The Who put it well, “They’re all WAAAAYSTED!!”

Lead an examined life, ask yourself “Is it worth it?” – for me, the answer is no. I actively recycle SUPs that other people generate, but if I have to resort to recycling a SUP item that I have “created” by opting to use it, then that’s a failure on my part. Mamma [Earth] don’t like no failures in our family. :) Recycling as a failure – think about that. Recycling as a last resort – act on that.

Perhaps too abstract or radical a shift for the average Joe, but, like it or lump it, it’s where we all need to arrive – and is the conceptual pillar of Rise Above Plastics – “Rise Above” the concept that single-use plastics are worth all of the (hidden?) reasons that they are a bad set of ideas and actions to begin with – a pretty easy path to take, actually. Try it, you’ll like it.

Check the current issue (#68) of Surfers Path, Surfrider page (p42) for the brief “full” original RAP concept – written just about three years ago. Thanks to Surfrider’s HQ Media Maven, Tracey Armstrong, for providing that design narrative intact. Awright!

[and while you're at it, become a Surfrider member & get a Surfers Path subscription here]

Friday, November 7, 2008

Will Economy Affect Plastics Recycling?

Jim Moriarty recently had a poll on his blog, Oceans, Waves, Beaches that posed the question, "Which is more important, the economy or the environment?" I am not sure what the final outcome was but the last time I looked most votes were overwhelmingly for the environment.

I actually put my vote with the economy. Why? Because I believe the rise and fall of the economy directly affects the well being and success of environmental awareness and programs. Recycling has increased with the advent of curbside pick-up, provided by local governments and private waste companies and they are in it for the profit. Some services are included in public utilities services along with your city taxes, some, like the one I use, require a separate monthly payment.

Quite honestly, I only started recycling when curbside pick-up was made available. It was a pain in the but to gather all of my plastics, glass, aluminum and paper, separate it and then drive it 25 miles to the nearest collection center. That collection center also exists to make a profit.

The Rise Above Plastics Campaign with the help of people like Ximena Waissbluth , in my opinion, is doing a great job of educating individuals on the impacts of plastics on our oceans and beaches. The message of reducing and eventually eliminating one's use of single use plastic bottles and bags even got through to me and I have grown up in an area that the majority of the population is not at all environmentally conscious. That in itself is a huge achievement!

However, I would say that most people I know still rely on recycling their plastic bottles, paper, glass and so on and more have jumped on the bandwagon in the past year or so as the result of a friend starting his own private curbside pick-up service. The first and only one that I know of in the entire Rio Grande Valley. Guess what, he is also in it for a profit and has conveyed to me that the future of the company is in doubt due to the recent global economic downturn. The value of recyclable materials has plummeted along with other commodities such as lumber, steel and oil.

So when he goes out of business, does the increase of people recycling as a result of him go with him? Unfortunately I believe the answer is yes.

I could ramble on more about this and fear that I may have already started to do so. I believe the following article on Times Online may provide a better example of the havoc the economic downturn is having on the world-wide recycling industry instead of my own personal experience.

Recycling Waste Pile Up As Prices Collapse

By Lewis Smith, Environmental Reporter

Thousands of tonnes of rubbish collected from household recycling bins may have to be stored in warehouses and former military bases to save them from being dumped after a collapse in prices.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

More on BPA

In regards to the previous posting “CDC criticizes FDA on BPA in the United States,” this is the kind of thing that makes my blood boil. Turns out the FDA’s August report claiming the safety of Bisphenol-A (BPA) was largely based on another report, one commissioned by the American Chemistry Council- a trade group representing chemical manufacturers. In 2004 just over 1 million metric tons of BPA was manufactured by the giants Bayer MaterialScience, Dow Chemical Co, Hexion Specialty Chemicals and Sunoco Chemicals, all ACC members. All making lots and lots and lots of money on BPA, so they fund a study and voila! BPA is safe.
Industry funded science.

The CDC and the NTC (National Toxicology Program), both also under the Dept of Health and Human Services severely rebuked the FDA’s finding, citing that “…the chemical is of some concern for effects on the development of the prostate gland and brain, and for behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children…with some concern for the neurodevelopment of young children, infants and fetuses.” That's not safe, that's dangerous.
The FDA’s mission:


What's the response of the FDA? If you'd like your eyes to glaze over read Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D., the FDA’s Commissioner of Food and Drugs, on his Oct 31 blog. Scary.

Here’s one gem from it:
The Agency seeks the new data coming from that revolution. But these new scientific data must be assembled into information and converted to knowledge upon which our regulatory decisions are based. We cannot short-circuit or avoid this process of rigorous analysis, critical assessment, and stringent validation. Only then will we have the strong scientific foundation upon which to make an enduring regulatory decision to approve a product, change a drug label or issue a call for change in or removal of a product.

Yeah, whatever.
In the 1930’s medical experts discovered BPA was estrogenic.
In the 1980’s BPA toxicity was shown in rodents at high doses.
In the 1990’s researchers showed detrimental effects at low doses.
In 2005 they found that doses as low as 0.23 parts per trillion affect cells.
In 2007 a group of the world’s leading experts published a comprehensive set of reviews on BPA and, as Frederick vom Saal, a professor of reproductive biology and neurobiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia said= "This is the kind of thing you would think would scare the heck out of anybody in the public health community."

Keep informed. Pass it on. Call your state legislator, tell him or her that you know about this. Tell him or her that you expect public health decisions to be based upon science, not industry pocketbooks. Pass it on...

Consumer tips for avoiding BPA

CDC Criticizes FDA on BPA in United States

Scientists from CDC, EPA Criticize FDA on Chemical Used in Plastic Bottles

Written by E. Sizemore

October 30, 2008

Baby BottleThis week a seven-member scientific panel, including toxicology and environmental health experts from the EPA and CDC, issued a strongly worded report criticizing the FDA on their response to concerns over products containing bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used in the making of plastic water bottles, baby bottles, food containers and other products from which BPA could leach into food and drinks.

According to the panel the FDA ignored strong evidence to the contrary and used flawed methods when determining that BPA is not harmful. Comprised of scientists from government and universities the report claims that the FDA did not consider dozens of studies linking BPA to diseases and conditions like diabetes, prostate cancer, early puberty and sexual dysfunctions in animals.

Many of the studies pointed out were reviewed by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), which did find that BPA could possibly harm brain development and cause behavioral problems in infants and small children.

In response to the report the FDA, which is in charge of regulating the chemicals used in plastic food containers, agrees that “…due to the uncertainties raised in some studies relating to the potential effects of low doses of bisphenol-A that additional research would be valuable.”

According to the CDC, more than 90% of Americans are exposed to trace amounts of bisphenol, which leaches out of water bottles, the lining of cans and other plastic food containers. The level of exposure may increase if such containers are used when microwaving food or heating up milk.

Canada and many other developed countries have already banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and other plastic food and drink containers. The United States has yet to do so, despite overwhelming evidence of BPA’s potentially harmful effects.

The United States’ free-market economy doesn’t always wait for government to regulate the safety of products. Many retailers and manufacturers are already offering non-BPA alternatives like steel drinking water bottles and glass baby bottles. Maybe soon the FDA will catch up with corporate America’s own response to concerns raised by citizens who just want healthy products for themselves and their children.

Below - Female reproductive effects linked to BPA exposure - Environmental Working Group

Monday, November 3, 2008

Plastic Bags... More dangerous than you thought!

Plastic bags are rarley thought to be so dangerous as to kill powerful creatures such as crocodiles... think again.

Plastic Bag Pollution Kills Saltwater Croc - Croc's plastic bags death surprises reef chief
Posted Mon Nov 3, 2008 8:45am AEDT Updated Mon Nov 3, 2008 8:55am AEDT

The crocodile was captured last Friday after menacing residents in waters around Magnetic Island. (ABC News: Sarah West)

The chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) says he is surprised to hear a crocodile swallowed enough plastic bags to kill it.

The crocodile had been relocated from Cape York in far north Queensland and was captured last week after menacing residents in waters around Magnetic Island, off Townsville.

GBRMPA chairman Russell Reicheldt says plastic is one of the biggest pollution problems facing the world's oceans. "I didn't know it was a problem for crocodiles specifically, you tend to hear it more as a problem for turtles," he said.

"But it ... reinforces our general view that the amount of marine debris in the ocean is too much and it's damaging wildlife."