J500 Media and the Environment

American Consumption Addiction by beccan

Growing up, my mom and dad made sure I knew the difference between needs and wants. We would go shopping and when I picked something up to show my mom she would ask, “Now, do you really need that or do you want it?” and I would hesitantly say, “want it” without any argument as to why I should get it. I just knew that it wasn’t going home with me. 

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

Needs v. Wants


As much as I dreaded that question as a kid, I now realize why my mother drilled that concept of needs and wants into my head. In the United States, we account for 5% of the world’s population yet account for 30% of the world’s resources. If everyone consumed like we do, we would need three to five planets to contain all of the waste.

For some strange reason, the idea that when we throw something away it simply disappears into thin air, has been engraved in our minds and is starting to affect our planet. We buy, buy, buy and do not see the damage that is being done or the consequences to our wastefulness. Our ignorance is killing our home and it is going to take a lifestyle overhaul to change it.

Having the newest phone, car, computer, you-name-it, is so important to us as Americans. The stuff that we have determines our social status and that status is so important in the American culture. Just think, when the U.S. was deep in the recession people freaked out, because they were not going to be able to consume mindlessly anymore. It made people crabby, because they couldn’t have all of the new stuff they wanted.

The internet has also made it easier to consume. We do not even have to get out of our chairs to buy new stuff anymore; it is delivered to our doorsteps. Advertisers tell us that to be “cool” in society we need to have the latest gadgets, styles and trends, which means we throw our barely-used stuff in the landfill to replace it with a new version of the same thing. This lifestyle has started to spin out of control. 

 There has been a consistent increase in the amount that Americans waste each year and the question is: can this be stopped or are we too far into our consumption addiction to turn it around? 

Becca N.

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.


Should she take the garbage out? by jennibro

When I was a little girl my mother used to read Shel Silverstein poems to me. My favorite poem was about a girl named Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout. This little girl adamantly refused to take the garbage out.  This poem gave me dreams as a child that one day our garbage was going to take over our lives until we were swimming in it.

Image by Chelsea Carolyn

Image by Chelsea Carolyn

It’s scary images like this that inspire people to begin the process of reduce -reuse -recycle. Blue bins now line the streets on trash pick-up day, and recycle signs designate the appropriate can for your bottle around the office. Unfortunately, recycling paper and plastic isn’t all it’s going to take. In “The story of stuff”, Annie Leonard stated that, for every can of waste put on the curb, 70 cans of waste were made to produce the contents  of that can. “So even if we could recycle 100 percent of the waste coming out of our households,” she said, ” it doesn’t get to the core of the problem.”

So what can we do? The answer is sustainability. Sustainability is to maintain and provide for. To keep the planet healthy, rather than make it worse for the wear. To conserve our resources, eliminate waste, develop clean air technologies, invest in waste-water solutions. The planet Earth is complex, and to sustain our planet it is going to take multiple efforts.

So what can Sylvia Stout do? What can one person do to help maintain the planet?

She can constantly educate herself to make the right choices based on what is best for the environment. She can recycle, choose to buy products without bulky packaging, use natural pesticides that are toxin free. She can refrain from buying the newest phone every six months and throwing away the old. She can change light bulbs to fluorescent to cut down on energy consumption, or ride a bike instead of driving. The possibilities are limitless, but the first step is making the commitment to consider the planet a top priority and provide for its health and safety.

-Jenni Brown

My Environmental Millstone (Not For Assignment) by angelajon
June 20, 2009, 2:14 pm
Filed under: J840 Week 2, Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , , ,
“It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”  Luke 17:2 (NIV)
My millstone sits in my garage, between my two Aero gardens, where my mid-summer starts are getting too big too early, and my five recycling baskets, each one holding a different type of material (plastics, paper, cardboard, glass, other).  It is not a large box, no more than 18 inches to a side.  The box is not ugly; in a previous life it contained Bacardi.  I cannot even complain that the box is in the way; it is not.  BUT IT BUGS ME! In the morning, as I am putting my lunch and purse into my car, getting ready for the drive to work, I stop and curse this darned thing.  When I sit at my desk at work, taking a break from the normal demands on me, I start my online searching, AGAIN.  But I can find nothing, no help.  When I come home and pull into the garage, there it sits accusing me, ruining the view of my otherwise nicely organized and clean garage.  I sit for a few minutes as the garage door closes, I don’t want to get out of the car.  Sitting in the car I cannot see the box, when I open my car door, it comes back into view.  I step around it and go into the house.  I boot up my computer and search again; maybe I will find the right combination of words this time, maybe someone will give me an answer.  But, yet again, I go to bed and the box sits, waiting for me, crouching there to guilt me again in the morning.   

 At one time, the contents of this box provided me a great deal of enjoyment, family time, entertainment and it actually made my life easier.  Now, it is the perfect example of our species’ folly; our desire to have ease and comfort in our life without regard for the consequences.  It is a box of old VCR tapes!  To date, I cannot find a viable way to dispose of these. Burning these releases toxins, there is no recycling program that uses them in any way.  The suggestions I get, even from the experts, is that I should donate them to a thrift store.  I am rejecting this as an option as I cannot be sure that they won’t simply throw my home recording of “The Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie” directly into a landfill.  I’m simply not comfortable foisting my troubles onto someone else.  I created this mess, I feel responsible, and right now it is my quest. 

Flowers Made From VCR Tapes and Sewn on to a Thrift Store Bag

Flowers Made From VCR Tapes Sewn Onto a Thrift Store Bag

Then comes the ‘red letter’ day; I find my answers.  I was surfing for recycling of VCR tapes, when I saw mention of craft uses for VCR tapes.  Huh?  Craft ideas with VCR tapes?  

Updating my search engine to Craft Ideas for VCR tapes turns up a plethora of ideas.  From clutch purses to shopping totes, to decorator flowers, to coasters, who knew a VCR tape had so many uses.

Adding to the great find of craft ideas, on this search I discover Greendisk.com!  I can have all of my electronic needs recycled at about 7$ for 20 pounds.  My CDROMs, my old remotes, phones, VCRs themselves and my tapes; I can have them shipped tomorrow with media mail rates to be fully recycled.  SUCCESS IS BEAUTIFUL.

A Tote Bag Made From VCR Tapes and Ribbon Yarn

A Tote Made From VCR Tapes and Ribbon Yarn

With the new search I came across quite a few suggestions for disposing of VCR tapes.  Here is the list:

Talk to a local hospital, they often have older equipment and could use commercially recorded tapes for their patients (all ages).  This works for Hospice care, assisted living facilities, any not-for-profit child care agencies or elder care.

Convenience stores often use VCRs for security, ask around, they may use your home recorded tapes for their security systems.

Freecycle is always an option.  http://www.freecycle.org/

Greendisk recycles all electronic media.  For roughly 7$ you can recycle 20 lbs of electronic waste.  The site gives all the information.  If you are shipping tapes, use the slow media mail option, it is cheaper.  www.greendisk.com

If you are crafty the two sites below give ways to make clever and even useful things from VCR tapes.  The one that interests me is the ‘earth friendly’ size tote bag; I wonder if it is strong enough for groceries.




Life is GREAT when there is lots of LOVE!

Angela Jones

Water: A Terrible Thing to Waste by justinlev7



Every summer, my parents would ship me off to camp near Little Grassy Lake, in Illinois. The beach there was small and silty, with one dirty old port-a-potty and an ancient wooden dock. The water was a distasteful shade of brown. It was cramped, hot, and uncomfortable. I hated it.

But former Senator Paul Simon, a hero in my hometown, loved the lake enough to build his house on its edge. I attended speeches he gave in the yard in front of his house, with the sun setting over the lake behind him. He knew from experience that  water is a rare and precious resource, one that many midwesterners take for granted. So in 1998, he wrote “Tapped Out- The Coming World Crisis in Water and What We Can Do About It.”

 Simon argued that inhabited regions across the world are coming face-to-face with shortages of life’s most essential resource: water. Cities like Tucson and Las Vegas could spring up in the American West because people dammed rivers and diverted water into their system. With recent patterns of climate change, though, these rivers have begun to dry up, and left desert cities high and dry. In China, the most populous nation on the planet, consumption is increasing even as farmers cope with the worst nationwide drought in half a century. And, closer to Europe, the Aral Sea loses 60 square kilometers of water each year.

And for some reason, as a kid, I hated my lake! Later, I found out that Little Grassy Lake is one of the cleanest bodies of water in Illinois. I learned to swim there, I learned to canoe and kayak on it, I spent countless nights down on its beach looking at the stars. Over the years, that lake became my closest connection to nature. Paul Simon was right. Water is more than a natural resource. It’s a gift, and it’d be a crime to continue wasting it.

Justin Leverett is taking shelter from a rainy day.

Got a light? got a clue? by tylerw09
March 13, 2009, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Society + Media, Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , , , ,

One of the many ashtrays at KU. Photo by Tyler Waugh I never grew up with cigarettes. My parents both smoked, but never in the house and never in the car. Everyday after dinner they would go outside and smoke a cigarette on the porch and talk about their days. My Mom quit a few years ago, citing acupuncture and will power as how she quit, but my Dad still smokes to this day.

Everyone knows smoking is bad for your health. We all know that “Cigarette smoking is the major single cause of cancer mortality (death) in the United States.” But what about the environment?

The air pollution emitted by cigarettes is 10 times greater than diesel car exhaust?

Not so surprising is how much it takes to make a cigarette.

4 miles of paper an hour to roll and pack cigarettes. To the tobacco industry and smokers all a tree is good for is to produce 100 cigarettes.

But What about the butts? Many people don’t like to litter, but some think that this doesn’t apply to smokers.

This post isn’t about these alarming statistics, it’s about me. I started smoking when I was a sophomore living in Hash hall. People would socialize and smoke cigarettes out on the porch, and that’s how I got sucked in. Though I at first thought of me as a “social smoker” (whatever that is) but am now addicted.

What will make me quit?

The smell didn’t.

The coughing didn’t.

The disgusting interior of my car didn’t.

The wasted money didn’t.

Will these facts about the environment? Maybe it will help. I haven’t smoked all day.

-Tyler Waugh

For the love of landfills by tylerw09
March 6, 2009, 4:18 pm
Filed under: Society + Media, Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , ,


I feel at home in a landfill. I love everything about it, all the different colors, textures, shapes and especially the smell. The smell that stays with you all day. The smell that gets on your clothes and your shoes and completely overwhelms you.

I love going to landfills because I can actually show people how awful they are. I could list staggering statistics like how Americans throw away around 40 billion bottles and soft drink cans and 25 billion Styrofoam cups each year, but I feel that these numbers can be expressed better in a visual way.





These photographs are from a project I did on mass consumption a few years ago. I tried to show the tremendous amount of waste and how are society makes these products readily available to consume and throw away. As has been said many times “away is a place” and this place is a landfill.

I am the youngest of 4 children, all boys. Most of my clothes are hand me downs, I’ve never really lived any other way. This is a good way to reuse old things, which is the second step to the good old phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.” I reduce my wardrobe by not having many clothes in the first place, and donate all my clothes to goodwill to reuse them. Every American throws away over 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year, and this could be dramatically reduced if people shopped more at second hand stores or the goodwill and reused old clothes. The photographer Chris Jordan has also done some wonderful work on mass consumption.

I will continue to document the horror of landfills. If people see where “away” is then maybe they will start reusing things and think twice before throwing things out.


– Tyler Waugh