J500 Media and the Environment

Flotsam Freakout by Kelly
April 20, 2010, 8:55 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 13, Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

Last week I read a news report about a giant garbage patch floating in the Atlantic Ocean.  Drifting between Bermuda and Portugal, there are miles and miles of plastic junk and waste.

I closed out of the browser quickly, like I had some dark secret that I couldn’t let anyone see.  Like one of those polished, well-respected professionals who, in reality, has a home full of take-out containers and wildlife.

I was mortified.  I felt personally responsible for the undulating swath of debris pictured next to the article.

flickr.com, by Horia Varlan

Irrational and unbalanced response? Maybe. But I sat there staring at a beautiful Portuguese coastline littered with Tupperware and Gatorade bottles and I felt like I had put them there.

Now, I realize that I didn’t really pack up my sandwich baggies and shampoo bottles, go to Portugal, and fling them into the sea for fish food. But I felt like I might as well have because the story made me realize that what I was doing here had significant, far-reaching consequences.

There is another garbage patch in the North Pacific Ocean.  Though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says it cannot accurately measure the size of the patch, sources have estimated it is roughly the size of Texas.

That much trash is dangerous, especially considering that most of it is plastic. According to a National Geographic article, approximately 10% of the plastic produced each year ends up in the sea.

That plastic pollutes the water, kills animals, and ultimately ends up in the food we eat. We can keep this from happening.

As the article notes, there is not really a realistic way to clean up the ocean. The plastic we have thrown away is going to sit unrecoverable in our oceans, forests, and landfills for a long time (think hundreds of years). But a realistic solution is to just use less of it.

Small changes like choosing paper milk cartons over plastic gallon jugs,  or using aluminum cans instead of plastic pop bottles can reduce the amount of plastic we consume by a lot.  And if you use something that’s plastic, recycle it.

I know using less plastic isn’t going to make our oceans fresh and free of flotsam and jetsam, but it will make a difference.  Someday, we’ll solve the problem of our polluted lands and oceans. In the meanwhile, we can at least take steps in the right direction.

It’s time to start cleaning up our act because, let’s face it, the secret’s out.


Suffocated By Plastic by Sean T.

Continent-size collections of trash rotate in the Pacific. SOURCE-James Vito

Shoes to sweatshirt to sunglasses, plastics are closer to me than I would prefer. Just as the Great Garbage Patches wreak havoc far in the Pacific Ocean I feel that plastics are trashing my food and clothes. 

 The sad part about plastic is that its built to last but usually only used once. Lunchbox sandwiches are covered in plastic wrap because a hundred feet of it costs a few dollars. Plastic is easy because there’s always more. Nevermind that it ends up in our food through leaching and bioaccumulation. Through emphasis on short-term, the process of making plastics adjusts our culture.

The concept of one-time use starts with purchases but moves  into other aspects of our lives. It can make us throw away a dying plant; it can make us give up on a relationship sooner. Our culture of fast-paced gratification is shoddily crafted with BPA-laced support beams.

Flavors abound but why is there no choice for containers? SOURCE-life.com

Not to say that this culture isn’t firmly secure. Plastics are a fundamental material in most products we consume. At grocery stores, a layer of plastic encases almost every food–even when cardboard is there! Fresh vegetables must be bagged before most grocers will ring them up. Stacks of plastic soda 2 Liters remind us of the thousands of bottles that float through stores each day.

How did this happen? When did this plastic safety net decide to wrap itself around our lives? Breaking a glass jar can be, well, jarring but do people really despise glass enough to banish it from the pantries of our society?

The origin of plastic is gasoline. Oil companies cannot refine all of the crude oil it finds. The non-refinable matter (what doesn’t end up in our tanks)is turned into toys, tabletops and whatever else the consumer needs cheap and in mass quantities. In the battle against plastics, it appears the infrastructure is against us.

The amount of plastic justifies its existence. By itself, an 8 oz. bottle of soda is a ridiculous concept. Higher price, less product, more hassle are all reasons to avoid the option. They find their way to picnics and office refrigerators because of bottle mentality. The 8 oz. bottle is justified by the 20 oz. bottle and the 20 oz. is here because of the 2 liter. Plastic bottles seem alien when compared to glass jars but a recycling bin full of plastic bottles makes sense of my bottle use.

Putting food in plastic wouldn’t make sense if our drinks weren’t bottled in it; we wouldn’t put drinks in plastic if the rest of our liquids weren’t stored that way.

This momentum builds rapidly but it can stop abruptly.  We can opt out of personal packaging, reuse glass jars and buy wholesale. When it comes to plastics “reduce” means more. We need to drastically reduce our plastic consumption before “recycle” can make any noticeable difference.

Sean T.

Whoever can guess how many bottles win them all! SOURCE-treehugger.com

Has Barbie Really Gone Green?? by paulineah
June 24, 2009, 6:32 pm
Filed under: J840 Week 2, Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

Green…I think this word has undergone some abuse in the last few years. Today, we are constantly bombarded by company advertisements that tout green practices and products. While I do believe that some of these efforts are genuine, my cynical side also tells me that a lot of companies are making these claims solely to increase profits and gain greater market share.

I found Mattel’s Barbie™ BCause collection to be particularly guilty of this. The BCause collection repurposes excess fabric from other Barbie collections. According to the company news release, “Barbie is always a reflection of current cultural trends and issues, and girls are increasingly aware of making a green statement,” said Richard Dickson, Mattel Senior Vice President of Marketing. Okay, so they’ve tightened their manufacturing by reusing some materials, but let’s not forget that Barbie is a plastic doll, sold in plastic casing.barbie

And Mattel is not the only company that is committing this sin. According to a recent study by TerraChoice, an environmental marketing agency, the number of “green” products has increased by 79 percent from 2007 to 2009.

So, what do I think about green? Well, I don’t view it as a mere trend, as the Mattel news release suggests. And I don’t feel I’m making a statement when I use my cloth bags at the grocery store. It’s not about veiling Barbie in reusable materials and slapping an “environmentally-friendly” sticker on her. I don’t claim to know all of the answers or do all of the right things, but making a concerted effort to live green just feels right to me. It’s about making conscious, thoughtful decisions that have a positive impact on the world in which we live.

~Pauline Horton

Plastic and Plankton and Peril, oh my! by meganr21

I grew up about 5 miles from the ocean and I can count the number of times I went to the beach on one hand. Between the Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant overflowing into the ocean during heavy rains and all the litter, it’s never been an appealing place to spend the day. Who wants to go swimming with plastic bottles and packaging? Certainly not me.


Plastic has been hailed the ‘lubricant of globalization’ because it’s a vapor and moisture barrier that enables safe shipment of products around the world. The same qualities that make plastics so great for trade make them virtually indestructible, so when they find their way into the ocean they’re there to stay.

A sea turtle with a plastic ring around its waist.

A sea turtle with a plastic ring around its waist.


Plastics don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade meaning that UV light from the sun makes plastic brittle so it breaks into pieces that can look like natural prey. Plastics like PCB and DDE are toxic so anything that eats jellyfish is also consuming potentially lethal plastics.


Plastics pose and even sinister threat than interrupting the food chain. A survey done off the coast of California found that in some areas the plastic to plankton ratios were 40:1 or even higher. So what’s the big deal?


Trash in the ocean shades the surface and only a certain amount of solar energy gets down into the ocean. Plankton act as a carbon sink (something that stores more carbon dioxide than it releases, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions) and require sunlight to bloom and grow. Too much shade means fewer plankton and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


86% of all ocean debris is plastic. As a whole we need to work harder to protect the environment, not only to maintain the integrity of our oceans but to save ourselves and our future.


Megan Richards


Image credits: © Dino Ferri/Audobon Institute and Wildcoast


Say Goodbye to Single Serving Friends by jseverin

As we bounced through the turbulence somewhere over Nevada, our flight attendant announced that he would soon be serving the in-flight meal: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich doesn’t really count as a meal in my book, but I thought I would give it a try. And while I didn’t regret snacking on a childhood favorite, I couldn’t believe how much waste that decision was about to create.

I peeled open the cellophane wrapper and pulled out the plastic tray. Inside was an individually wrapped Smucker’s Uncrustables sandwich (do people really buy these?), a bag of baby carrots, and foil wrapped cookies. Shortly after that, the attendant brought by another plastic-wrapped plastic tray with vacuum-sealed salami, cellophane wrapped crackers, and a plastic container of cheese spread. In a matter of minutes I had generated a massive pile of non-recyclable petroleum-based waste. And while I didn’t spend much time looking at the individual labels, I can imagine I ingested more than a healthy amount of sodium, fat, and chemical preservatives in the process.

Chris Jordan
Image: Jet Trails, 2007 – Chris Jordan

With nearly 30,000 commercial flights a day in the US, we’re not only leaving a trail of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but mounds of garbage on the ground. The NRDC reports that US airlines throw out enough aluminum cans every year to build 58 Boeing 747’s. And that’s just the trash that’s recyclable. All told, airlines produce about 1.3 pounds of garbage per passenger. It seems like this industry has plenty of room for greening, starting with a few simple steps:

Recycle those aluminum cans: This is a no-brainer, but it isn’t happening. Airlines and airports could even save some money in the process.

Reconsider airline food – especially the packaging: Instead of everything being individually wrapped in plastic, perhpas airplane meals could be served in a compostable, compartmentalized paper tray sealed with 1 cellophane top. And all those aluminum cans could be eliminated by using a fountain-style dispenser instead of cans. One had been developed for the now defunct National Airlines, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else. (Perhaps the dispenser was part of their demise?)

Educate people about their options: While there may not be room for a full kitchen and dish set in the cabin of a plane, the overall waste could obviously be reduced by encouraging reusables. There is nothing wrong with packing your own reusable flatware, cups, and mugs.

Despite these simple steps, the biggest news in greening airlines these days seems to focus on reducing the carbon footprint of the industry through carbon offsets. Virgin Atlantic also recently made history by powering a flight from London to Amsterdam with a biofuel blend. But offsets don’t reduce carbon emissions and even Virgin admits that the biofuel they used isn’t the answer. Maybe they should start by getting rid of all of our single serving friends.

– Jeff Severin

One order of waste with a side of pancakes, please by Chardonnay

“First Watch on College, this is Sonya, what can I get for you today?”

“Alright, I have a To-Go order of a triple stack of blueberry pancakes, a three cheese omelette and an extra side of potatoes. Would we get you anything else?”

She didn’t even have to ask.

With that order will come disposable styrofoam boxes, disposable plastic silverware, a disposable paper menu, disposable single serving jellies, ketchups and syrups, and plenty of extra paper napkins. It’s all complementary. Complements of your ecosystem.

I know what you’re thinking: this is almost overwhelming.

But don’t you worry– it all comes in a convenient, giant plastic sack. Maybe even two if it’s necessary (and sometimes when it’s not!). We even give you a disposable 3 oz paper cup for your coffee while you wait.

To-Go practices is hardly the first thing that comes to mind when I think of wasteful practices at First Watch. And whether this strikes you as good news or bad news, I can tell you that the company is not evil and not unusual.

It is delicious. Our orange juice is unbeatable. We go through at least five jugs each Sunday. When we finish one off, we toss it in the trash. It joins the glass apple juice jugs, plastic milk cartons and countless other packaging materials that are tossed each and every day.

It will not join the cardboard boxes in which they are delivered.
No, of course. We recycle cardboard.


I would love to see Chris Jordan do a piece on how much waste reduction could result from a nifty, space-saving tower of recycle bins being placed in each First Watch throughout the country. In fact, every restaurant I’ve worked for could use one. Could it become as standard a business practice as the employee hand-washing sign? That guy’s everywhere.

As far as To-Go’s, I would look to “Reduce” before “Recycle” in my triple-R toolbox. I mentioned in a previous post Jason’s Deli’s new practice to include extra resources only upon request. This easily be mimicked by restaurants all over the world and the impact would be colossal.

That covers the supply-side, but until that campaign goes through, here’s what we can do from the demand-side. When ordering To-Go’s, ask the server to skip the plasticware, napkins, condiments and menus.

I don’t know if this discredits me, but in the name of full disclosure, I can’t resist the complementary coffee. I get the feeling that bringing your own mug from home would earn a judging eye or two.

-Sonya English

My Little (Dog’s) Sexy Poo by jenh
February 11, 2008, 8:11 pm
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , ,

Don’t LaughYou want sexy? Well, here’s a topic that’s way overdue for a sexy makeover: pet poo. This is an environmental issue – no, really. Here’s what brought it to mind. There I was, bundled up like a six-year-old sent out to go sledding, head down into the gale North wind, a leash pulling my arm outward. At the end of the leash, my geriatric canine Millie took her dainty sweet time puttering along the sidewalk, exchanging “messages” with every other dog whose owner took leisurely strolls in 10 degree February weather. In winter, these messages manifest as yellow snow. We arrived at a fateful yard, where last summer my neighbor posted a sign that said in the polite but firm tones Kansans are known for, “Clean up after your dog. It’s a city ordinance (and it’s neighborly!)” The day he put up the sign, he nodded to me and said, “Present company excluded, of course.” Yes, I clean up after my dog. It’s my good neighborly duty to whip out a plastic bag, one of the billions we throw our groceries in every day. The problem is, being neighborly isn’t exactly environmental. I go all Woody Allen Annie-Hall-neurotic about it: I should clean it up, because it’s gross to leave excrement on someone’s lawn, what if they have kids that go running barefoot on the lawn even though it’s February and what parent would do that anyway, won’t my neighbors talk about me and whisper there goes the girl who doesn’t clean up after her dog…. But then I’m thinking about all those plastic bags, twice a day, into my trash bin and off to the landfill, how they pile up….etc.
But that kind of guilt for cleaning up dog poo is that same enviro guilt that Arnold Schwarzenegger is talking about when he says we need to sex up environmentalism. So, how do I come up with a way of dealing with poo that is sexy? Clean it up with a scooper and dispose of it at home? Impractical, and besides, the celebs would never buy into it (and who else but celebrities with pets can tell us what is or isn’t sexy?). Use biodegradable bags by DKNY and Prada? Unlikely they decompose.
And so, I give you: the poo butler service. Think of the glamour: someone comes to your home, disposes of the waste, puts it in worm bins to turn into some kind of compost – what could be more sexy than that. No mess, no fuss. If only all environmental problems were so easy to dispose of!

One further note on comedy (with apologies to the far superior Ranjit): see Science is Hard, a parody by The Onion, and a great collection/overview of climate change cartoons. –Jen Humphrey