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.


About Me: Angela Jones by angelajon

While Oregon is very green (in many ways) growing up in the Willamette Valley on a medium-sized ‘working’ farm was not always fun; in fact I believe it is the reason I ran away and joined the military.

My First Horse and Her Colt; Roxie and Rusty

My First Horse and Her Colt; Roxie and Rusty

As a kid, my summers were filled, from before school let out to late fall, with putting up peaches, apples, apricots, plums, pears, tomatoes, and berries into sauces, jams and jellies. We had 7 chest freezers for any food that was not preserved by canning or drying. We traded apples from our orchard for peaches with the guy up the road. We grew our own blackberries and raspberries; at picking farms we picked blueberries and strawberries. Beans, peas, potatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers and a full menu of squashes were some of the vegetables we could put up and there were so many more in the garden that we just ate as they matured. We raised our own livestock and chickens. For variety my father would hunt deer, elk, rabbit, raccoon, and we all fished from the local lake. Meat was canned, pickled, jerked, frozen, or made into pâté or sausage. All parts of the animals were used: bone was ground into dust and tilled into the soil, skin was tanned, horns and teeth were used for handy-crafts, and buttons, hoofs, tails, guts, and inedible bits were cooked or steamed down into a meal to feed the pigs, goats or chickens.

My Older Brother, Carl, and His Award Winning Kill

My Older Brother, Carl, and His Award Winning Kill

Firewood finished the summer. As harvesting and storing the garden came to an end, my father would get us up drastically early and drive us into the wooded areas of our land. There we would fell, split, chop and cut cottonwood, oak, and ash. We had a wood room on the side of the house. There we could store over 20 cord of wood. Then we would fill the adjacent field with another 20-25 cord of cut, split, and stacked wood. By spring it would all be gone; we heated solely with wood. The ashes were mixed with the winter collection of manure and tilled back into the soil.

Maybe, in some eyes, this is living naturally, living off the land, recycling the woods (we used downed trees first as the wood was ‘seasoned’, but felled what we required). My father was very conscious about sustaining the woods; we cut and felled responsibly, providing growth room for new saplings. He was very aware that if he cut too much, in the wrong areas, or of the wrong type it would impact our ability to heat the home in upcoming years and could cause land erosion.

However, we had a playground for bored kids; a dirty secret for the family.

Most farmers have the same secret, but in our area, since much of our land was not cleared, and the land of the other farmers was sustaining crops, several of our neighbors would come and add to our shame; we had a dump. Out, alongside the furthermost field, ran a tree infested gully. Our land was flood land and every few years the Willamette River would flood its banks and turn much of our land into a lake. There were lots of gullies, formed by water rushed along under the force of the overflowing river. In this gully my father dumped our waste. We burned what we could, the rest: the glass, metal, old mattresses, and what-not were dumped between the trees into this depression. Neighbors came frequently to ask for a favor, “As long as it don’t stink, and bring in varmints,” was my father’s reply to the request, and the dump grew.

At the end of our quarter mile long drive, our closest neighbor had the same type of dump. Otto Hahn was the only farm equipment repairman for over 100 miles; he was famous, much sought after and damned good at what he did. Out the back door of his work shop went his trash, down a small incline into a low area. Trees had grown over it, brush obscured it from view (for the most part), but it was there. On occasion, instead of playing in our own backyard dump, we played in Otto’s. One day I discovered a clear-glass Pyrex dish, wrapped in baking parchment, held in place by cooking twine, with a treasure inside; a piece of wedding cake with a note giving the date and a wedding blessing. Otto Hahn, widowed less than two years ago, had just married is childhood sweetheart 70 years after they met and 57 years after her mother refused to allow her to marry a farmer. Otto and his first wife, Adelia, had been married over 50 years and this was a piece of their wedding cake.

I gave the Pyrex dish, complete with the treasure it contained, to my mother. She took it to Otto and asked his wishes. He was touched, but felt the cake and its importance in his life had been overcome by events. That dish was the first piece to be put in my hope chest; it is a bread loaf baking dish. My dream for many years was to be a baker. I love to make bread. I use the pan often and always remember the sweet old man who could repair anything.

Today, I consciously avoid yard/garage sales as I tend to ‘discover’ way too many treasures. Being with the military and now the federal government, I have not lived in the same house for more than 3.5 years since 1981. I keep my clutter to a minimum or face the pain of packing and moving all of it every few years. This can be a powerful motivator.

I have traveled extensively all over Europe and lived more of my life in countries where English is not the native tongue than the total number of years I have spent state-side. I bring with me all of the paradigms created in Europe by the lack of space, the need to build up rather than spread out, the drive to maintain standards in densely populated multi-cultural cities. In Germany, Italy and several other European Union nations, recycling is mandatory. My weekly garbage, what did not go in one of the three different recycling bins, could fit in a sandwich bag. Taking my trash out each week was actually a pleasure.

We are not as efficient or regimented in our recycling here in the U.S., but I hope to be part of that change as it happens.


Life is GREAT when there is lots of LOVE.

Angela Jones

Keeping Kansas Clean by matthewtb

An old man walks through the grass on the side of the highway.  He stabs trash with a sharp pole and places it into a bag.  This stretch of road runs along his property and he was just trying to keep it clean.  When passing motorists throw trash from their vehicles they are littering on people’s property.  Someone has to pick it up.  In this circumstance it was the guy who lived closest to the trash.  

Throughout the state of Kansas there are organizations dedicating their time to help collect roadside trash. The Kansas Adopt a Highway program has been operating since 1990, relying on volunteers to pick up the trash of their fellow Kansans.  Highways are adopted for two years and the organization’s name is posted along the side of the road.pickuppieceoftrash1

There are many miles of roadway that are not currently adopted.  In the windy state of Kansas the trash can blow far from the roadway where no one will come across it for years.  When it rains the water will carry this trash into our streams and rivers.  This poses a threat to wildlife and pollutes our agricultural land.

It’s bad enough that we are filling up landfills with trash.  However, people will continue to throw trash from their vehicles, despite looming littering citations.  As long as there are organizations to donation their time, these roadways will appear cleaner.  Only if people learn to Give a Hoot, don’t Pollute, will we curb this litter problem

-Matt Bristow

photo credit: johnnygeo-blog.blogspot.com

video credit: youtube.com

talking trash by jessicasb
February 18, 2009, 5:05 pm
Filed under: Energy + Climate, Nature + Travel, Society + Media, Waste + Recycling | Tags: ,

How much trash have you consumed today? If we’re really counting, I’ll let you know: two muffin wrappers, two paper coffee cups and a ziploc bag. My friend sitting next to me? Plastic sandwich bag, granola bar wrapper, a styrofoam cup and an envelope. The average American throws away 600 times his or her adult weight in garbage over their lifetime, according to the EPA.  

We can talk about helping the environment until we’re blue — or green — in the face, but we know that we allow ourselves some leeway every day. “No impact man” we are not.

And we probably won’t ever be, because the effects (overflowing landfills, trash in the ocean and a depleting ozone layer) of our non-environmentally friendly causes (throwing away recyclables, driving) are something we can choose to never see.

I was really fascinated when I first heard about a California man, Dave Chameides, who saved all of his trash for one year. He wasn’t trying to unrealistically wipe out his carbon footprint completely — after all, he still produced 60 pounds of trash. But by knowing he’d have to confront his environment impact — literally — he made adjustments.

And to do the same, take Chameides’ advice, as he tells CBS: “Right now, grab a piece of paper and a pen, write down everything you’re going to throw away for the next week and look at it. Fifty percent of it you can get around.”

— Jessica Sain-Baird

Thanks to YouTube and WPTZ for the video.

Poo Pundit Pushes Back by shemme

This is the account of a poo expert’s crusade to save landfill space for dirty diapers. Brad Pooterish, founder and CEO of Daddies Using Diapers (DUDs) shares a dirty little secret behind America’s looming landfill crisis.

All statistics in this video are true and based on real reports from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Diapers really do make up only 1.4% of the waste stream, while paper products and yard waste make up 47%. NO, paper and yard waste do NOT decompose in landfills. Landfills are designed to be a “dry tomb” environment; waste becomes mummified due to the lack of moisture and air flow.

What’s in your landfill?


For more info, visit http://www.epa.gov/msw/facts.htm

~ Sarah H

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Spring Flowers Yield to Trash Towers by jenh
May 7, 2008, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , , ,

Jen Humphrey

Ah, May in a college town. You might think of graduation, flowers blooming, the start of summer vacations.

How about the not so beautiful sight of Dumpsters overflowing with couches, jeans and junk food wrappers?

The City of Lawrence figures that during the ginormous trash month of May, Lawrencians toss out a staggering 7,243 tons of trash, or 14.5 million pounds for you math-challenged out there. That’s enough to fill more than 600 of the average trash trucks that rumble down your street or alley.

Those trucks haul the food packaging, discarded Britney Spears CDs, soiled mattresses and abandoned Royals t-shirts to Hamm Waste Services in Jefferson County, north of Lawrence. They also abscond with a lot of the good stuff people toss, like still-useable cameras, televisions and cell phones.

All told, in 2007, the citizens and businesses of Lawrence added 72,703 tons of trash – roughly the weight of 10 Eiffel Towers – to the Hamm facility.

But there would be more trash headed to the landfill if the City of Lawrence didn’t offer incentives to recycle materials, especially yard waste and paper products. In fact, the city boasts the highest recycling rate in Kansas, at 34 percent.

What makes reducing waste in Lawrence such a challenge, however, is the transient nature of a college town. In Lawrence, 50 percent of all housing is rental. Students shed residence hall life or graduate from the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. And every time they move out or move in, they leave belongings at the curb or bulging out of Dumpsters.

On top of all that movement, advertising available city and local recycling services can fall on deaf ears. The information has to be repeated year-round, every year.

KU, which has a thriving recycling program started in the mid 1990s, tackles part of the waste staff and students generate. The university offers a surplus property program, headed by Celeste Hoins of the KU Environmental Stewardship Program, that collects unwanted furniture on campus to offer it to area nonprofits. KU also has a Center for Sustainability, a kind of clearinghouse of resources to help the university reach for a more sustainable future.

The state university can’t offer services down the hill in the high-density “student ghetto,” where the city’s garbage trucks have to patrol daily during peak move-out times. There’s no way to coordinate moving belongings abandoned at the curb to people looking for new stuff.

So, what’s the solution, you ask? It’s time to pitch in. Got a truck or a van? Advertise your services for a day to get some of that furniture to area donation centers. (Try trading pickup service for after move-in beer.) Or, if you’re willing to think big, consider forming a group that could collect such property and find a way to give it to charity or sell it to those who want it, just as the KU surplus property program manages to do on campus. And if you’re one of the people moving, plan ahead, and consider shopping for “new” belongings at the curb or at area used furniture dealers, instead of buying new. -Jen Humphrey

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Pharaohs and Prophylactics, Preserved for the Afterlife by jenh
May 7, 2008, 11:49 am
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , ,

Jen Humphrey

The 600,000 people of northeast Kansas generate this amount of trash, about 2-3 feet deep, daily at the area’s sanitary landfill. photo credit: Jen Humphrey

Egyptian pyramids have their mummies, and landfills have their petrified banana peels.

Yes, the banana peel your aunt Edna threw out more than three decades ago is almost perfectly preserved, still partly yellow, a mummified testament to the garbage she took to the curb that sunny day in June 1972.

It’s a common misconception that food scraps, condoms, soup cans and celebrity gossip magazines rot in commingled gooey bliss in the landfill. At least, it was my misconception until I became a junk junkie, rifling through the glorious world of garbage.

Engineer Charlie Sedlock at Hamm Waste Services north of Lawrence set me straight. Trash doesn’t decompose. It stays suspended in time in a landfill, largely locked away from air, sunlight, moisture and even the microbes that might go to work on that banana peel.

Under the visible trash at Hamm’s rock quarry and landfill is an entire sewer system that drains away all moisture, leaving the garbage veritably toasty and dry. And above the trash, Hamm employees top the waste with soil and later with prairie grass. Charlie tracks every such tomb and the gases each emits at the 600-plus-acre operation – one of about 1,850 landfills left in the United States.

Those landfills hold the roughly 251 million tons of trash Americans generate annually – or about 4.6 pounds of trash per person, per day.

As in most modern landfills, the chief item you’d find at Hamm is paper – beer cartons, corrugated cardboard, office paper, junk mail and newspapers. On average, the federal government estimates that paper accounts for more than 40 percent of a landfill’s contents.

On one hand, it might not be a bad thing that all the leftovers of our lives, from cat litter to packaging, can be preserved in a landfill. Think of what could happen in a couple hundred years, long after Peak Oil, when we are scraping for scarce manufacturing materials (or that quintessential ugly college couch). Plus, that trash could help us develop energy from landfill methane.

However, when Charlie tells me he can find a banana peel from the year I was born (let alone some toy pharoh with gold peeling paint), it encourages me to keep potential petrifying material out of the landfill entirely.

For more information on getting rid of your goods, check out the city’s recycling and composting, and for big items, there’s freecycling or Larryville.

— Jen Humphrey

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