Thursday, June 29, 2017

Let's Talk Trash: A Few Thoughts on Garbage

  by Endless Summer

Found Itens

Lately, we have been dealing with a lot of garbage.
I keep thinking at some point the goings-on in DC will abate somewhat and we will be able to catch our breaths, but so far the chaos proceeds at a smashing pace and we watch our political norms and the social contract between the people and the government being ripped asunder in a startling way. Our outrage can barely keep up with the injustices perpetrated by Trump and his crew.

So, while we wait for Mueller, et al, to take out the political garbage in DC, I wrote this post about literal garbage in our world, and some good things that are being done to take out our trash.

I have been a nature lover all of my life. I was lucky enough to grow up with a mother who paid great respect to Mother Earth, who taught me early on to care for our planet. Being a large family of very modest means, we went on picnics instead of out to eat.

Whether visiting a park, the beach, or the woods, part of our ritual always included cleaning up, not just after ourselves but after everyone else who had left any kind of trash behind. Our old station wagon always held extra trash bags and before we left any outdoor venue, we would leave it cleaner than we had found it.
To this day I would no more throw a piece of trash on the ground than I would rob a bank.
I cannot litter, I just can’t.
Thanks, mom.

Oceans as The World's Garbage Dump 

These days when I walk on the beach, I almost always bring along a trash bag, and pick up after folks who are not so conscientious. In our consumer society, so many of our goods are so cheap as to be disposable. Canopies and beach umbrellas cost less than $20 and folks would rather just leave them on the beach than take them home. Plastic toys, fishing gear, a pair of sunglasses are daily finds.

It’s depressing, and I don’t reclaim trash every day, but I do it a lot. My small effort doesn’t make a lot of difference in the grand scheme of things, but my hope is that I can be an example to others and maybe have some small impact on someone who will begin to take more care with our only home.

One of the saddest facts about garbage is how much of it ends up in our oceans. The vast majority of the world’s population lives near the coast. But ocean trash doesn’t just come from coastal dwellers. Even for inland populations, any trash that ends up in a waterway can make it into the ocean.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

I know that you have all heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating island of mostly plastic trash between California and Hawaii. Estimated at 386,000 square miles with a periphery that stretches even further, it is a blight that delivers death to marine mammals and birds in its whirls and eddies. So far there have been no likely solutions to the problem of this floating garbage island.

There have been literally hundreds of proposals, but, according to Tony Haymet, former director of Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, none have proven feasible or effective. Sunlight and wave action have degraded most of the plastic down to a micro size that makes it virtually impossible to filter out from active sea life.

Haymet said this in a 2014 National Geographic interview:
"That's what makes it so horrifying, the micro-plastic is the same size as the stuff living in the water column. How would we ever go out and collect it? So far no one's come up with a plan to separate all the micro-plastic from the living life that's the same size."
The latest proposal being considered is a cleanup flotilla that would spend the next 10 years harvesting trash from the garbage patch. Besides not being able to filter the micro garbage, there exists the problem that the amount of plastic trash doubles every 10 years, so by the time the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was cleaned up, we would likely have a new one to deal with.

On land we have miles and miles of garbage dumps, two of the world’s largest are here in the US- one in California and another in Arizona. Which should be an embarrassment to us as a first world nation. I don’t know if we will ever find a way to curb our consumer culture, but I am in great hopes that in the near future technology will lead us to a cleaner planet and help us to solve the problems that we have created through our conspicuous consumption.

The good news is that some of the solutions are not as difficult to implement as you might expect.

Baltimore and Mr. Trash Wheel

Several years ago, I read an article about a pollution solution in Baltimore Harbor called Mr. Trash Wheel. Using a combination of river current and solar power, Mr. Trash Wheel collects garbage that flows from the Jones Falls River into Boston Harbor. In operation since May of 2014, Mr. Trash Wheel has removed over 1 million pounds of garbage.

The wheel was built by Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, a public/private non-profit that has taken responsibility for revitalizing Baltimore’s waterfront since 2005. 
With a goal of making Baltimore Harbor swimmable (yes, you read that right), fishable, and bringing back the oyster industry (ahem, Nebraska Native) by 2020, the partnership has tackled problems of urban blight, pollution, and waterfront employment opportunities. In 2013 the Partnership created a plan for the renewal of Baltimore Harbor.

Waterfronts are tricky. Most waterfront cities developed as ports, which initially creates prosperity. But with shipping comes the attendant water pollution, not just trash but fossil fuel waste and industrial runoff. For the city of Baltimore, famous for blue crabs and oysters, pollution of the Harbor almost killed off a seafood industry. Crabs and oysters are filter feeders. They concentrate toxins in their bodies as they feed on micronutrients in the water. It takes a delicate balance to create a healthy habitat for both of these species. They are a bellwether for the health of a bay.

In 1973, the City of Baltimore, facing a declining seafood industry, made a conscious decision to shift the focus of Baltimore Harbor from an industrialized harbor to a destination for locals and tourists to enjoy the waterfront.

The initiative was called Inner Harbor and included building an aquarium and a science center. Forty years later, much of the infrastructure needed updating and repairs. The city launched Harbor 2.0 and formed the Waterfront Partnership. Baltimore Harbor is reestablishing itself as an east coast tourist destination, and the seafood industry is beginning to make a comeback.

From removing graffiti to rebuilding the river walk, adding lighting, creating outdoor markets, and investing in tourism, the Partnership is meeting their goals for revitalization, and at the core of their mission is taking out the garbage.
Mr.Trash Wheel has become something of a celebrity because of his tremendous success in removing trash using only green energy, and if you are a fan you can follow his live feed, twitter or facebook accounts.
With the success of Mr. Trash Wheel in removing more than a million pounds of garbage from one waterway, I wonder why every harbor, river or bay doesn’t have a Mr. Trash Wheel of their own?

The Swedish Model

You know who else is really good at taking out the trash? 
In fact, Sweden has literally run out of trash. This nation has put such a premium on recycling that they literally heat the entire country with trash.
This hasn’t happened by accident. 

With one of the most forward-thinking policies ever embraced by a nation, Sweden has heavily taxed fossil fuels since 1991. They invested in an infrastructure of district heating networks so that recycled waste could be used to heat homes throughout the country.
The country does not produce enough garbage on its own to fuel their system, so they import garbage from other European nations to keep their systems running. Again we look at a public/private partnership, as private energy companies join with government infrastructure to create a successful program.

And it’s not just recycling. The Swedes have become experts at sorting and reusing their trash. It’s a national movement, “Miljonar-vanlig” of repairing, sharing and reusing. While most of the world is drowning in their own garbage, Sweden has literally cleaned up, recycling close to 100% of household waste.

While the program has its critics, and there are arguments made against the burning of household waste, the big success here is that the country has eliminated the need for landfills. Even if a program is less than perfect, I believe that anything we do that reduces our trash and pollution is better than not doing anything.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” 

In my own life, I have tried to keep to the principles of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” It’s not always easy, it takes effort. But I believe it is an effort worth making. In the face of our huge world problems, my coping mechanism has always been to make my small corner of the earth as beautiful and as clean as possible, and to practice kindness to people, animals, and the planet.

We are here on this blog together because of a like-mindedness. I would love to hear what each of y’all are doing to take out the trash. So please use the comments to share ideas, tips on recycling or any ideas you have for reusing or repurposing items we usually throw away. 

Please share your stories, your ideas, your successes, and any good news (it does not need to be trash related) here in this space together. I appreciate each and every one of you more than you know. 
And maybe, just maybe, we will be celebrating taking the trash out of DC in the near future.

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