Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Project

OK, gang, I’m working on a project and want to use you all as a sounding board.

When it comes to garbage are there any parts or aspects of it that make you go, “huh?” Anything that you “just don’t get?” If so, let me know. I’m looking at topics like:

The Short Road from Consumption to Waste – After the Great Depression, US leaders paved the way for America to be a consumer nation. When the chips are down, we aren’t asked to cut back; we’re convinced that shopping is a solution. But where has this gotten us, besides further down the road?

Beyond the Curb – Where do trash and recyclables go? Have you ever wondered what happens to our trash and recyclables? You’ve heard about landfills and incinerators, but what do you really know about them. From environmental impacts, costs, and even benefits, there’s a lot more to garbage than you might think.

Recycling, the Myths and Truths – Many still claim that recycling costs money, but ask a recycler and they’ll say business is better than ever. Demanding manufacturing markets in China and India make recyclables a commodity, not a nuisance. Barges that bring over chachka destined to fill the shelves of discount stores across the country wait on the California coast for our recyclables that will be used…you guessed it…to make more chachka. But beyond that, steel, concrete, plastics, glass, more and more recycling is taking place not just because of regulatory requirements, but because it’s good business.

Trash is Treasure, the Business Side of the Nation’s Garbage – From Waste Management to Allied, there are companies that thrive on our throwaway attitude. It’s a competitive market that operates independently and with cities and counties. They operate collection services, transfer stations, landfills, and incinerators across the country and make a profit on every ton of garbage we throw away.

That’s all I’ve really got so far, but if you wake up in the middle of the night with a garbage question you want answered, let me know.

And please know, I'm only using you in the most appreciative kind of way, because after all, you are my friends. :-)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Who Isn’t Sailing Across the Pacific?

What a coincidence. After writing up my blog yesterday, about Roz Savage crossing the Pacific Ocean to draw attention to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (thanks to a friend, whom I’ll call Chuck, for the content idea), I hear a news story about another crew. Check out Junk, a raft made from plastic bottles and an old Cessna cockpit.
Its crew, Marcus Eriksen, PhD and Joel Paschal, work for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and launched their vessel on June 1.

Monday, June 2, 2008

I Sit, She Rows

I’d like to direct everyone’s attention to Roz Savage . She’s rowing across the Pacific, starting at San Francisco and rowing to Hawaii as the first leg of her journey, to bring attention to the degradation of the world’s oceans. From Hawaii she’ll go on to Tuvalu and then on to Australia. This is her second shot at the trip, but believes she learned enough from the first go-around to improve her chances this time. Go Roz!

Her website includes updates on her travel AND some great information on the challenges our oceans are facing. One in particular that I find very intriguing and disturbing is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

From the article…

“Charles Moore, the marine researcher at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach who has been studying and publicizing the patch for the past 10 years, said the debris - which he estimates weighs 3 million tons and covers an area twice the size of Texas - is made up mostly of fine plastic chips and is impossible to skim out of the ocean.”

Concerns are many from the immediate to the long term. Marine life ingests the plastics, which because they can’t be digested fill their gullet and they eventually starve to death because there’s no room for real digestible food. And long term effects that include hormone disrupters caused by the chemicals in plastic. So much for plastic being our future. Well, it may be our future, but not a very pretty one.

Friday, May 30, 2008


Yes, it’s that time of year again. What? Christmas already? No, not the winter holiday season that seems to move closer and closer to Labor Day every year. I’m talking bug season. Yes, that time of year when the humidity rises and mosquitoes, deer flies, and horse flies buzz your body from your ears to your ankles. In my case, it was my big toe, and after a chomping bite from a horse fly, it was my big, big, deformed looking toe. Nothing like a swollen appendage to set my husband off, sometimes I think he married me just to enjoy the humor of my sensitive skin. Well, as long as it makes him happy….*cough*

As everyone in Florida and possibly other locales can attest, the bugs are here and we humans (along with our dogs and equines) are apparently fair game. So, what do we do about them? I hate using repellent because of the chemicals and the stickiness, but if we’re going to be out for a while I’ll go for it. I have found that if am bitten and can wash the area right away with soap and water or even rub some alcohol on it (a single malt scotch whisky works best) a bite won’t usually form. But, in the case of the dreaded horsefly, nothing was stopping that puppy from surfacing in a really big way.

So what’s a good approach to keeping bugs off and avoiding the chemicals? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’m really hoping you’ll answer it. I mean come on, I told you about washing bites and everything, the least you can do is share some good avoidance advice.

My friend Heidi, “hey, Heidi!” told me about Whup-a-Bug. As much as I love the name (it sounds like you’re going to open up a can of whoop-a$$ on some insects, oh, I’m bad, bad to the mosquito slappin' bone), I’m wondering how well it works. I recently heard something that said unless the repellent has DEET; it’s not worth the money. Can anyone verify or refute this claim of DEET supremeness?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Food Choices for a Healthy Planet

I’m not sure what you’ve got loaded on your iPod, but mine’s crammed full of Science Friday episodes, and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. I didn’t think that was so bad, until I disclosed this to a friend (or so I thought) and got a head shake in return. Because I’m grown up and I really don’t care a whole lot what people think of me (OK maybe a little) I’m keeping my nerdcasts and hence this leads to my blog today.

While doing my run-walk this morning (yes, back problems have forced me to me cut back on running and combine it with walking to eliminate the repetitive motion of my feet landing on the pavement and jarring my back over and over and over again, this back problem also has me stretching like a Yogi and working on my core, so watch out, I’ll be a buff cheerleader any year now), but back to what I was talking about. This morning I was listening to a story on how our diets affect our carbon footprint. The study comparing the carbon footprint of different aspects of our diets was performed by a civil and environmental engineer at Carnegie Mellon. Well heck, if I had been involved in studies like that, I may have never left engineering. But be that as it may, back to the story.

The research team determined that cutting out a meal of red meat and dairy once a week was actually more effective at reducing one’s carbon footprint than eating locally grown vegetables and fruits. This is a result of the production of methane and nitrous oxide generated by cows. Unless said bovines were fed a diet of Beano, but they didn’t mention that part of the research. Of course, coupling the reduction in red meat and dairy with eating locally grown veggies and fruits is even better.

And this brings me to a recent grocery shopping experience. In the fruit bin at the local Publix sat side-by-side, Florida oranges and California oranges. A year or two ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about it and surely wouldn’t have appreciated the irony that oranges (Florida’s fruit for crying out loud, we supply 75 percent of world’s orange market) are shipped from about as far away as you can get within the continental US. Can I get a “geeze Louise”? Because of my enlightened state, I reached past the non-native citrus instead picking up a bag of Florida’s finest.

So, have you made any food choices lately that were based solely on environmental reasons as opposed to health concerns? C’mon, dish.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Recycling, a primer in trash and getting more out of our garbage

I’m working on an article for one of the trade magazines I write for on transfer stations and MRFs (material recycling facilities). Transfer stations are often a go-between, between neighborhood collection and a landfill or incinerator. Garbage trucks collect from neighborhoods, or residents drop garbage off at collection centers, the garbage trucks then take the garbage to a transfer station where the waste is dumped on the floor (don’t try this at home kids). Prohibited waste, like tires and batteries, is removed and the remaining garbage is loaded into semi-trailers (bigger than your regular garbage truck, like real semi-truck) and then it makes the trip to its final destination. In some places the garbage trucks go right to the landfill or incinerator because the distance doesn’t really warrant combining loads at a transfer station.

Well, as sexy as transfer stations are (don't deny it), MRFs and recycling really get my attention. MRFs are buildings where recyclables are segregated, matching up different kinds of plastics, metals, and paper. Because the market for recyclables is so high right now, items that weren’t worth the effort to remove from the waste stream are now fervently collected. In California, recyclables are loaded onto barges waiting at the docks. These barges travel back to China or India, taking with them materials needed to make more stuff for us to buy at Wal-Mart. Because this trade route is very well established with material goods, recycling is the beneficiary. Someone I recently spoke with said she was concerned about the shipping associated with sending recyclables to China and India, but the boats are already headed back there, so they might as well include some recyclables.

One of the things I love about writing is how much I get to learn about different topics. And here I thought there wasn’t much more to learn about MRFs and other interesting tidbits of garbage information. For one thing, in California there is legislation that increases recycling requirements from 50 to 75 percent of the waste stream. That’s right Californian’s will have to recycle 75 percent of all their garbage. Kind of gives you an idea as to how much of what we throw away really can be recycled. This responsibility of recycling doesn’t just fall on the state’s residents, but to industry, businesses, and government entities, which means, there is great potential for the norm to really shift.
Companies that produce or sell recyclables will likely be held more accountable and will be required to collect the recyclables they sell. Not just the Best Buys and Home Depots, but likely the grocers too. One comment from someone I interviewed said he wouldn’t be surprised if within ten years customers purchasing say a gallon of orange juice would pay different prices based on whether they brought back their plastic jug from their previous purchase. Closed loop! I love it!

Some people may look to the day when technology brings us more useful appliances or entertainment. For me, I’m excited about what the future may hold for garbage. California (yes, the state that thinks it’s a country) is promoting zero waste. Imagine a world with no landfills, no methane too. No leachate to treat, or potentially contaminate groundwater.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Squirrel—The Other White Meat

OK, I’m totally bogarting this topic from another website. Grist had a headline about how eating squirrel is an eco-friendly way to maintain a carnivorous lifestyle. But Grist actually got the article from The Guardian (published in the UK). And if you’re talking free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, then it would appear that the squirrels have it. Although I’m not quite ready to pull out the BB gun and take out one of my bird-seed eating tree dwellers.

Alton has gone squirrel hunting. He didn’t bring home any of the spoils, but opted to eat his squirrel stew with his fellow hunter. (I guess if there’s a weapon involved and an animal is killed it’s still considered hunting, although when it’s man versus squirrel, hunting seems to be a little bit of a misnomer.)

We do have a lot of squirrels around here. They continuously work to get to the bird seed and since I love my multiple feeders and my feathered friends who feed there, it gets my gander up to see some rogue squirrel chowing down on freshly placed seeds. Only metal squirrel-guards have managed to do the trick and keep them out of the feeders, not for want of effort that’s for sure. And while squirrels may be cute and all (except that time of year when they are harboring larvae under their skin and it gets all bumpy until the insect pops out)(WARNING: the above link will take you to nasty squirrel dermatological photos, viewing photos my cause stomach contents, yours, not the squirrels, to become airborne. You weren't going to click on it, but now you can't help yourself, can you?) I suppose I could do with a few less squirrels around here.

And of course I’ve got to follow this up with our own personal story along the lines of “what not do to.” After the squirrels had chewed through our first plastic squirrel guard and were slewing seed all over the yard in a true Wild West kind of way, we got out the BB gun. It’s a pump rifle and very few pumps were used as to not actually harm any of the rodents (well physically, emotionally we could have turned them to into basket cases). The girls got to be pretty good squirrel harassers and when they saw a squirrel on the feeder they’d quietly get the gun and slip the barrel out our open front door. More often than not, the squirrel managed a quick getaway before any pellets hit the air.

So, we’re in a local wild bird supply store here in town to buy another squirrel guard. Now this store is pretty earthy-crunchy, they sell all kinds of birding accessories. I’m explaining that the squirrels chewed through our plastic guard and we need a different kind when one of my daughters (who shall remain nameless) pipes up, “we’ve been shooting them with the BB gun, but they keep coming back!” Or something of that nature. The clerk’s eyes pop open. This isn’t the kind of place, or the kind of people who want to hear of our critter hunting, especially when it involves a delicate flower of a child and a peace-loving mammal. I quickly explain that it only happened once or twice and that no squirrels were hurt. But the damage was done. Once the proper guard was found we were quickly escorted to the register, all pleasantries aside.

I suppose if the squirrels in our yard had looked like these we may have thought twice about hurling metal their way.

It really is amazing what you can find when you Google squirrel images.