J500 Media and the Environment

Reflections on the semester: The whole enchilada by jmuselmann

Food is at the fiber of our very being. It is passed around piping hot with potholders, it is handed to us, self-contained, through the car door in paper sacks and divvied accordingly. It’s what we eat because our family does, our friends have tried, our mothers can afford. We throw it away, and we raise it high above our heads for to honor a friend or deity as an intentional sacrifice. Boxed up, it is heaved and flown across the world, passing some to bless others.

One way or another, people get their hands on food. And then we all have the decision of what to do with it. Some have the luxury of waiting to eat it, others use it as currency or a positioning of power, while for many others, who have not been able to make the decision in quite some time, it is always this: Put it into the holes in our faces in time to prolong death.

Of course by this point, we know we aren’t just talking about food. But rather, how food passes and intersects with our needs for a healthy environment and body whole. The need for change is dire and yet lingers on. The idea of going green is gaining unprecedented momentum, and yet, in many ways, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. People can easily eat their organic cake and not recycle, and we let them. But even within the green universe, there lies a wad of inconsistencies and tradeoffs to be sifted through and decided upon. It’s a voyage that has caused more than one breakdown in the grocery store, where I’m stunned into inaction, clutching my wallet in front of the onions, biting my lip at the global repercussions. Often I leave almost empty-handed. Pressure too great.

People say, “the choice is up to us” as consumers, but it sure is hard. Without good legislative infrastructure to guide food ways, it shouldn’t be surprising that it veers toward the same reckless trajectory as other things in this country, trailing irreversible damage in the wake of progress and profit.

Take me, for example: At least in some point in my life, I have recycled. I have also littered. Oh, and I have been the one calling into report the tags of those I see throw things out of their cars while driving: approximate time of infringement, rough location, type of violation, what kind of model and the company make. I guess this class has shown me that maybe I don’t need a number in my glove box to bring about change, I need only open my fridge instead.

—Jacob Muselmann


Earth Day: yer doin’ it wrong. by bendcohen

Earth Day is great.  For one day a year, even the non-environmentalists can get together and say “You know what, I kind of like the planet.”  For forty years now, Earth Day has provided people a brief respite from being called tree huggers (at least in a derogatory way).  The problem is, when a lot of people only pay attention to sustainability on special occasions, they can get it wrong.

I first thought about this point a few years ago when the story came out that Sir Paul McCartney, an avid environmentalist when not busy being the guy who wrote “Hey Jude”, had some kind of especially green automobile delivered to him in England from Japan.  Now, no matter how it was transferred, getting a car from east Asia to the (for them) far end of Europe would take a lot of money and a lot of energy.  Apparently the plan was that the car, a Lexus L600H, would be transported by boat.  Sadly, the news broke quickly that this didn’t happen, and it was delivered by airplane. The estimate given for how much this increased the carbon footprint of the car: about 100 times.

"Know what gets great mileage? My yellow subma-" "Don't even start, Ringo."

I roll my eyes when celebrities try to take up a cause and occasionally fail miserably, because no matter how insignificant they are supposed to be to a movement, inevitably the media will focus on them, and the ironic situations that frequently arise from the attempted mixing of two different kinds of green lifestyles.  One of those is the kind of “green” that traditionally gets the label, that of somebody who tries to lead a sustainable life, in The Cute One’s case by buying an awesome, really expensive hybrid car.

I am reminded by the occasional poor attempts at encouraging the right thing on Earth Day this year.  During an Earth Day celebration at KU’s Kansas Union, where different environmental groups passed out literature and hosted educational games, there was one booth that got my attention.  After picking up a reusable water bottle from them, I noticed that they were the source of a t-shirt I had seen with some frequency that day.  It was green, and read on the front “My shirt is green.  Are you?”

While a little condescending, my biggest problem with the shirt wasn’t what it was, but how people acquired it.  You see, the whole Earth Day fair was sponsored by Coca-Cola, which has a corporate partnership with the University.  Needless to say, they liked having their name on something positive, and also wanted a good way to make money off of it, which I don’t begrudge them.  Back to the t-shirts: you got one by buying two bottles of soda.  Buy more of an unhealthy product packaged in a non-biodegradable object, and get a free t-shirt (made of organic cotton!), without even a note to be sure to recycle those bottles.  In related news, authorities still have not located Irony’s body, though have assured us that they will continue searching around the clock.

In fairness, I later asked somebody working at the fair who assured me that the exchange was a mix-up.  The plan was that the t-shirts would be a new line made out of recycled plastic, but this fell through, and they hoped using organic cotton would be sufficient for people.  For me, it wasn’t.  For everyone I mentioned it to, it wasn’t.  There’s a difference between supporting sustainability, and giving it lip-service on a holiday, and this was cleanly the latter.

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.


A story about a guy who doesn’t believe in recycling by bendcohen
April 9, 2010, 2:37 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 11, Society + Media, Waste + Recycling | Tags: , ,

“Recycling is a lie”, said somebody in my Scientific Principles of Environmental Studies class about a month ago.  While the rest of the class, and the GTA who was leading the discussion in place of our absent professor, raised eyebrows and uttered a collective “Seriously?”, this person explained that recycling centers did not actually dispose of waste, but rather shipped it all off to China to be burned or thrown into landfills.  This was in reaction to a video we had just watched depicting this very thing happening with e-waste.  At least one recycling center was shown to have merely sent its recycled phones and old computers to a dump in China, where parts were either stripped off or destroyed.

I have turned over the comment that “recycling is a lie” this video elicited ever since.  I thoroughly disagreed with the assessment then, and continue to do so, but it got to me in that I realized how easily somebody was swayed by one video of an unethical business.  The point of the feature was not to criticize the practice of recycling so much as it was an expose on how the exportation of e-waste is handled, both domestically (a recycling center which ships its waste abroad), and internationally (entire communities in China portrayed as being based around e-waste dumps).

Levels of waste are going up constantly, with one report estimating that e-waste just from cell phones will increase in China sevenfold by 2020 (from 2007 levels).  If you take the tons of space taken up by all of the waste in the country, and then factor in gas from all the melting plastic, you get… filth.  It’s probably not the most scientific calculation ever devised, but then I also don’t have a calculator on hand.

But, with all that in mind, my classmate’s reaction wasn’t “They are abusing the practice of recycling for money all over the world”.  It was “recycling is a lie”.  Different studies have come up with different results for how many people in America actually recycle.  A Harris poll in 2007 cited by Jasmin Malik Chua of treehugger.com stated that 23% of Americans did not recycle.  Honestly, when I saw this number, I thought it was encouraging, given all the people I’ve known who think not throwing an empty aluminum can in the trash is something hippies do.

And they'll come after you if they find out you're not doing it. From rowthree.com

Another report, this time from 2008, stated that around 40-50 percent of Americans recycle all the time, and one taken shortly before that had 25% of the country not recycling at all.

I’m not great with numbers, but that last one is not a number I have a hard time wrapping my head around.  Somewhere around a quarter of the country’s population either agrees with my classmate that recycling is a “lie”, or they are just apathetic to it.  I’m not actually interested in preaching the values of recycling right now.  Those kinds of rants are so common they are almost cliche.  Rather, I’d just like to dwell on the the fact that so many people are desensitized to said rants.  Some think it’s a lie, some don’t understand it, some just don’t care.  That crying Native American from the old commercials would be sad.

~Ben C.

Reduce, Reuse, Retackle by jmuselmann

image fromgardenmandy.com

Environmentalism nowadays may seem new-fangled and trendy, but recycling, its old-school call to action, has character and appeal in its simplicity. It’s about as ubiquitous as the three Rs are in school, and like reading, writing and ‘rithmatic, it’s thought to be good for everyone. But even this durable cause can get messy, and when it does, it ain’t so wholesome anymore.

A few days ago I spoke with Jeff Joseph of Jeff’s Curbside Recycling, one of the smaller-scale operations in Lawrence, Kan. Well, maybe the smallest: his company consists of a man with a truck. He was driving around the city, tending to his customer’s pre-sorted trash when in two words from across the phone line he casually shattered my perception of the untouchable triad of folded green arrows: Recycling contamination. Can you even put those words together? (It’s when different substances are accidentally recycled into one material.)

Breaking down in the soil to later become a natural reincarnation is one thing, but what about when there are particles of plastic in my recycled milk carton? Not only is that disturbing (move over, BPA), but it’s also expensive. It’s such a problem in the city of Fresno that perpetrators—whether intentional or not—collect fines on the third offense. San Francisco is also trying to bag up the problem because it renders thousands of tons of initially recycled material a waste, suspended in your newspaper or whatever else was in the same recycling facility when it was ground up.

Joseph said “single stream” companies, which pick up all recyclables together to be sorted later, were more prone to commingling sins. The EPA has acknowledged the problem and established guidelines—but we all know what that means (and doesn’t mean in the case of toxic waste, a much scarier implication).

Deffenbaugh, which happens to be Lawrence’s only single-stream pickup and largest recycler, said it made pickup more convenient and minimized the cost because sorting was automated. According to the company, about 4 percent of the total volume received is extracted by hand before the recyclables are sorted. Here’s what that system typically looks like:

But are many companies with green intentions missing the point not in what they are doing but in how they are doing it? Must this movement yield to cheapness and efficiency for its growth? Does the business of recycling need to adopt the corporate world’s devout faith in the ability of machines to undo our laziness, or can we expect people to sort the soda cans from the beer bottles? As the green movement spreads its wings, people are gaining more incentives to be sustainable each day, but the often-clumsy to go green easily arrives at growth is costly—in dollars, the very resources we are trying to renew, and possibly our health. The ends don’t make the means irrelevant, since we are, after all, going in a circle.

—Jacob M.

Not Lovin’ It! by KaylaReg
March 4, 2010, 11:34 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 7 | Tags: , , , , , ,

My favorite childhood restaurant, like so many other people, was McDonald’s. I was a chicken Mcnugget Happy Meal with a Dr. Pepper kind of girl. It came in a cardboard box with fun drawings and games and, of course, you can’t forget the awesome varieties of gender-specific toys that came with it.

He's everyone's favorite red-headed clown, but it's a sad fact of life his happy meals contribute to deforestation, waste, and litter across the United States!

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan remembers the same excitement I got as a child from unwrapping McDonald’s items, as if they were “little presents.” Even though McDonald’s fell out of favor with me,  new Ronald McDonald enthusiasts are born every day, explaining its sales of over $5.97 billion, exceeding the $5.94 billion expected revenue. It’s easy to forget that as fast- food chains continue to grow, the need for wrapping up those “little presents” grows as well.

According to No Free Refills‘ (NFR) 2008 Fast Food Packaging and Production report, the Southern forests in the U.S. are the world’s largest paper-producing region, and the place most fast-food companies get their brand-specific packaging. The report claims 43 million acres of forests have been converted to pine plantations. The U.S. Forest Service states that now, nearly one in five acres of Southern forest are devoted to pine plantation.

Fast-food packaging isn’t only affecting Southern woodlands, though.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that in 2008, 32 percent of all waste came from packaging and containers, the highest contributor of waste accounting for 77 million tons. According to the NFR report, the average American eats fast-food more than 150 times a year and 1.8 million tons of total packaging waste is from fast-food.

To be fair, even NFR verifies that 83 percent of McDonald’s food and beverage packaging is made from some form of recycled paper or wood-fiber material. McDonald’s also reduced its waste by 1,100 tons from 2004 levels simply by making minor adjustments to french fry boxes in 2005. While I don’t mean to belittle such efforts, it seems as if McDonald’s overlooked perhaps the simplest recycling tool used in almost every school, office building and park-recycling bins.

According to a 2009 study conducted in part by Rutgers and Indiana University, the presence of a specialized recycling container reduced waste by 35 percent. So when children find items wrapped in McDonald’s packaging six times more appetizing than identical snacks in plain wrapping, as this 2007 Stanford University study found, it’s obvious what kind of recycling power McDonald’s could have.

Without recycling bins, one of the most recognizable signs of environmental responsbility, McDonald’s mission to be greener than the rest is very much underminded. While McDonald’s has implemented incredibly successful recycling bin programs in Japan, Canada, and Europe, such initiatives are severely lacking in the U.S. I know I’ve never seen a recycling bin in a Lawrence McDonald’s, at least.

The beauty of locally franchised McDonald’s though, is that customers have a lot of input. If local McDonald’s eaters decide they’d rather recycle than throw their paper bag, wax-lined cup, napkins, hamburger wrapper, french fry container and ketchup packets at the end of a meal, let the owners know. We may just find that all our  fast-food friends need is a little nudge.

-Kayla R.


About Me: Jackie McClellan by jackiemcc
January 24, 2010, 1:22 am
Filed under: J500 Week 1 | Tags: , , , , ,

Hi everyone! It was nice to meet all of you last week. Hopefully you will be able to get a better sense of me now from this post.

My name is Jackie McClellan, and I am a fifth-year undergraduate student double majoring in Journalism-News and Information, and English-Creative Writing. I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and hope to return there after I graduate this May. As much as I love Lawrence, home is home, you know.

During my time here at KU, I have been a correspondent for the University Daily Kansan, and have also worked with KUJH-TV. In addition to my written and television work, I also recently had an online internship this past summer. It was probably my most rewarding experiences in journalism yet. My internship was with the online journalism magazine: thecelebritycafe.com. For this internship, I wrote movie and book reviews, television show recaps, and news summaries. You can go here to read my work. I feel I learned a tremendous amount about online journalism through this internship.

After I graduate, I want to become a journalist for either a magazine or newspaper. I would especially be interested in entertainment writing. I would also write for an online website. My dream job however, would be to be a layout editor for a magazine or newspaper. I had some design experience in high school, and that is what I enjoyed the most.

I decided to take this class, because I have always subconsciously been interested in the environment. It has never been one of my top interests, but I am very opinionated in what I do believe in. I am especially interested in what we as people, can do to help preserve the environment. I am very opinionated when it comes to simple solutions, such as recycling. My belief is that it is not that hard to separate and recycle items. Plus it is good for the environment. I was so interested in the recycling and reusing efforts on campus, that I made a video story about what students, faculty, and staff can do with unwanted items on campus for one of my J415 videos. I will be interested in learning what more we can do to help the environment.

One group I have been a part of all through college is our KU Habitat for Humanity chapter. We work with Lawrence Habitat for Humanity to build simple, affordable housing for low-income families. The Lawrence Habitat’s ReStore also collects new and used house parts (for example, sinks, tables, chairs, etc…) and resells the items to the public. We build houses here in Lawrence, as well as in Kansas City. We also take a Spring Break trip every year, and spend a week building a house in another part of the country. Two years ago I went on our Spring Break trip to Clarkesville, Georgia to build a house. Throughout the years, I have been our secretary and treasurer. It has been a very rewarding experience, and I am glad I am a part of it. Below are some pictures from our Spring Break trip to Georgia.

—Jackie McClellan