Artist Spotlight: Kathy Benitez and Alaska Sea Glass Art

Archaelogists LOVE trash. By looking at an ancient civilization’s midden piles, scientists can tell us a lot about the food people ate, the illnesses they had, the kinds of materials they used in their everyday life…and so much more.

Kathy Benitez found more than she expected when she visited her daughter last summer in the remote Alaskan village.  “When it was time to leave, the bush plane was delayed by five days for a variety of reasons. It was during this time I started to enjoy beachcombing and picking up the beautiful sea glass.” DSC01463 - Kathy Benitez

Kathy learned that the sea glass was discarded into the ocean over 100 years ago by people departing steamboats and starting their trek up the Yukon for a hopeful fortune in gold. KB2

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the glass at the time, but sent it home and learned how to make wall hangings and jewelry.  I love working with sea glass because it has a story. The ocean has turned trash into something beautiful with gem-like qualities and reminds people of the power and beauty of the ocean.”KB.jpg

Kathy Benitez and Alaska Sea Glass Art is located at Table #4.

Artist Spotlight: Janet Ronacher and Fiber Design By Janet

Sometimes something completely unexpected causes a life path to take a slight turn in a direction previously unexplored.  Janet Ronacher explains, “I began fusing plastic bags in my artwork after reading that the Hurricane in Haiti destroyed the dwellings of residents.  The monsoon rains that continued after the Hurricane horrified a Bend woman who decided to get her friends together to iron 10’ x 10’ tarps to give the Haitians some shelter.  I have never met the woman but I was so impressed with her can-do spirit as she sent many tarps to Haiti.”

And so, a seed was planted and Janet started to explore this new concept. After thinking about the woman in Bend and dreaming about the possibilities Janet started experimenting with small bags.  That included layering bags, ironing them
together until she had roughly a 12” x 24” piece of plastic that she could cut into strips and weave as baskets. C870E4A5-C23F-4414-8FD8-E8ABFFBEB9EF - Janet Ronacher

“I was surprised that the bags I had were not  enough to really work as I thought they should.  So I asked friends and neighbors for any bags they thought were bright and colorful for me to try.  I was shocked at the number of folks who were delighted to have a use for the bags.  That one basket the size of a 6” x 6” box used over thirty bags. It was difficult to count the bags and keep ironing and then weaving so I never counted again.”AFA5D070-9C87-4D32-957E-46063B6C56D9 - Janet Ronacher

(The difference between Janet and me (and maybe many of you) is that her work is art. Mine, at best, would be “craft”. This is a good time to explain that the jury process was used to separate out the work of people who, while done well, just did not reach that level of art we hoped to introduce to the public. Janet’s ability to take one of the biggest contributors to an environmental mess on our planet and produce something attractive and even functional is a talent that many do not have.)03B65C2A-E731-4A0D-9547-425A833F8C59 - Janet Ronacher (1)

“I feel good about using reclaimed materials as my medium since it is so plentiful and I feel compelled to keep as much as possible out of the oceans, waterways and food supplies of animals and humans.  I have read that plastic never really goes away and that it has a half life of over 400 years. Yes I might run out of materials eventually and my work will someday become waste also.  In the meantime I will continue to save the environment one bag at a time until scientists and engineers find a better alternative.”3542AE58-7144-4295-9F32-EFBB90327938 - Janet RonacherJanet Ronacher and Fiber Design By Janet will be located at Booth #31.

A Few Steps BEFORE Recycling

Recycling is a feel-good process. Our trash hauler Recology identifies itself as a recycling company, not a landfill company.  That means when China and other Southeast Asian countries stopped taking mixed recyclables from the United States,  we had to go through an adjustment.

Last summer there were more restrictions about what was allowed in our bin. But Recology has worked hard to find buyers for our recyclables and more items are allowed now.  And you can now bring your polystyrene foam to the Depot.  Check Recology’s What Bin? app on their website to see how you should sort that item. Call the office at (503) 472-3176 if the answer is not provided in the software.

That is all good news, but it’s important that you also understand that not all recycling gets used that way. While things might be better here because of Recology’s priority,  less than 9% of plastics are recycled  worldwide.

You’ve seen the photos of how trashed the ocean is. You’ve read by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than ocean animals. You’ve read the news that there is plastic inside our bodies now from the food we eat and water we drink.  We have no idea how this is affecting us.

It’s going to take some effort to clean things up so our children and their children have a healthier environment.

That is why Zero Waste McMinnville also encourages you to start REFUSING to buy items if they use plastic in their packaging…plastic that immediately has to be trashed…if you have a zero-waste option. Using the bulk bins in the supermarket is an easy way to make that transition. Most of the grocery stores in town have bins; Winco has a very large selection that also includes pet food. But there is one more step to being a zero-waster when you move to bulk bins: you need to bring re-usable containers with you. 

The stores provide plastic bags and plastic containers. The bags will go to the landfill and we know the issues with wind blowing that lightweight an item off the landfill and into the Yamhill River and onto adjacent properties.  I use mesh bags that I found online, but more are becoming available in the stores themselves to encourage this behavior. They are tightly woven and can hold solids, but fine items like sugars might fall through some larger weave bags.  I can toss them in the wash to make sure they stay clean to hold food. 

tare
Source: Wild Minimalist

I use an offered  plastic container to fill with peanut butter, but I wash it and bring it back to the store for re-use.  At this time there is no tare station at the bulk bins but if you want to bring your own containers, and many people prefer glass to plastic, you can stop at a check out and ask them to tare your container. Make sure to have them write the tare weight on the container or its lid. That way, when you are ready to pay, you will only pay for the weight of the contents.

REDUCING is another step to use to minimize your trash. One of the biggest waste issues in our homes is food. People may not like eating left-overs, so they get pushed to the back of the frig and eventually become fuzzy. Not going to eat that!  

So, when buying fresh food like fruits and vegetables, milk and other refrigerated items, having an idea of what you will make with the items will help minimize having extra sitting around and spoiling in your house.  Use your freezer to package up produce in season when locally grown fruits and vegetables taste so fresh. The library has cookbooks and the Extension Service on Lafayette Avenue also has information that can help you prepare your food for the freezer so it will be delicious and safe to eat at a later time.  

Dehydrating and canning are other ways to preserve surplus food as well as prepared dishes when you have leftovers. These methods also end up with a shelf-safe product, which means it can be put in the pantry or cupboard and not take up freezer space.

Image result for re-use
Source: Tanana Valley Watershed Association

RE-USE is another step that eliminates trash. Sometimes we buy something and enjoy it but stop using it either because habits change or something breaks.  If you really are not going to use something again, pass it on. Decluttering is a very freeing feeling and no reason to keep things you won’t use.  I had a father-in-law who filled his barn over 60 years with broken things because “he might need them.” We had a lot of clean-up to do when he passed on.  But he grew up in the Depression and learned to be frugal.  We also can be more frugal but not to that point!  If the item needs something fixed in order to use it, be creative because many manufacturers want us to be attached at the wallet and plan the obsolescence of their product.  Sometimes they don’t even offer parts so you can repair things.   You might find some of these ideas useful!

LOGO jpegIf you want some amazing ideas of re-use and alternative use make sure to come to the McMinnville Recycled Arts Festival April 26th & 27th at the Linfield College Nicholson Library. It really is a misnomer to call it a “recycled” arts festival as the artists have amazing items that have used things that might be considered trash in alternative ways to produce things to enjoy.  Alternative use or upcycling are more common terms for these things. Come and see.

Only after you REFUSE, REDUCE,  and consider  RE-USE are you ready to sort your trash into recycling, composting or landfill. 

Refusing Means Developing Circular Systems

If you listen to a segment of our society you will hear there is a need for more drilling for gas and oil. We  people of the earth want our electricity which definitely helps improve the standard of living. And some people in positions of power seem to see little need to spend more attention on developing technologies with alternative energies that can provide what we need without similar environmental impacts.

We also apparently want a lot of water in plastic bottles and the like, and those are NOT a necessity. There are options for that most of the time where we live. With the exception of a degraded water supply, the stuff coming out of our taps is usually drinkable here in the United States.  Essentially, anyone living here should be able to use refillable bottles and never buy a plastic one-time-use water bottle except in an emergency.

So, we can REFUSE to buy those water bottles.  And the companies that sell them will begin to get the message when their sales drop. They will hear us louder if we actually communicate with them.

And then, still wanting to make money, they will try to develop solutions that will consider alternative packaging. That packaging may be something we can re-use, but if they can’t find that, they will develop a return-to-the-manufacture policy that will put the onus on them to find a solution.

With the expense of drilling, refining and then manufacturing, plastics are pretty expensive to produce. You would think that a way to capture more than the 6-10% that is supposedly recycled in the US would increase, just because of the cost of new production. The recycling costs, however, are also expensive and companies would have to spend to build new infrastructure to take care of the problem.

It is a problem they make. But it is a problem we also cause with our demand.

Up until China closed the door to our trash we were happy to send our garbage “away”. We felt good because we could send them so much of our recyclable materials that our rate of recycling rose and in communities like McMinnville, we saw good reduction of what went to the landfill.

So, we have been forced to re-examine just what kind of life style our garbage tells about us and look for solutions.  Finding the point where businesses can still sell products and make a profit, where we consumers can obtain items we enjoy, AND where the earth is not being mistreated is difficult, but it exists!

circular economy considerations
source: recycling today

Some corporations have been making changes over the past decade and some more are coming on with efforts to decrease the amount their products influence our flow of trash.

Unilever is a huge corporation that makes a lot of products and I think many of us have items in our homes, many in plastic containers.

global-brazil-recycling-plastics-040517_tcm244-504557_w940
source: Unilever

Beach clean-up projects have inventoried collected plastics and Unilever is joined by others in the predominant plastic trash found.  Over 10,000 volunteers across 42 countries took on the world’s most ambitious plastic cleanup and brand audit project yet. Nine months, six continents, 239 cleanup events, and more than 187,000 pieces of trash later, we now have the most comprehensive snapshot to date of how corporations are contributing to the global plastic pollution problem.

They are, in order from most to least commonly found in global brand audits:

  1. Coca-Cola
  2. PepsiCo
  3. Nestlé
  4. Danone
  5. Mondelez International
  6. Procter & Gamble
  7. Unilever
  8. Perfetti van Melle
  9. Mars Incorporated
  10. Colgate-Palmolive

    Image result for plastic in ocean corporate audit
    source: Greenpeace

How plastics end up in the ocean is a problem that is being worked on around the globe, but please realize that the amount equivalent to one garbage truck load each minute ends up in the ocean.

No longer wanting to be the originator for that mess, In January 2017, Unilever committed to ensuring that 100% of their plastic packaging will be designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Here are their considerations:

  1. Rethinking how we design our products: using our Design for Recyclability guidelines that we launched in 2014 and revised in 2017, we’re exploring areas such as modular packaging, design for disassembly and reassembly, wider use of refills, recycling and using post-consumer recycled materials in innovative ways.
  2. Driving systemic change in circular thinking at an industry level: such as through our work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Global Plastics Protocol.
  3. Working with governments to create an environment that enables the creation of a circular economy, including the necessary infrastructure to collect and recycle materials.
  4. Working with consumers in areas such as recycling – to ensure they’re clear on different disposal methods (eg recycling labels in the US) – and collection facilities (eg Waste Bank in Indonesia).
  5. Exploring radical and innovative approaches to circular economy thinking through new business models.

Read about their plans to redesign their product containers involves using more recycled materials and making sure all new packaging is recyclable or compostable.

It is important to encourage them and others to make these changes. Most are inspired by the way the world almost completely agreed in Davos about ways to improve environmental impacts that are our responsibility. But corporations will need help from governments. As a citizen I would prefer no new tax cuts to provide incentive, but perhaps a tax hike to cover other infrastructure solutions if the corporations do not instill them themselves.

Again, our best first step is to REFUSE but writing to offer support for a more sustainable package will help them move in the right direction.

 

 

 

 

Recycling is NOT the “Best” Answer

I’m so proud to live in a city that is making great efforts to reduce its trash; to teach and learn about recycling and composting and all that. But we still have a big problem, folks,  and it will take more than McMinnville to solve it. However, McMinnville people have to be part of it as well.

The desire for status quo is so strong. People really hate to change habits and that includes corporate America as much or even more than each person who fights issues like a single use bag ban. We Americans have a love affair with oil and plastic.  Too many people can’t see what other options can work as well and major manufacturers know what they know and most of the time, want to just continue business as usual.

Corporations know that to modify their system will cost money. A change not only means identifying a more sustainable solution that provides similar safety and product preservation, but retooling assembly lines for those new items. That costs money and they like to EARN money, not spend it.

As long as we consumers are quiet and don’t complain, things will stay the same. This issue, like much else in our society, has to be driven from the grassroots.

When we understand that our fish and shellfish now has microplastics in it (yes, you are eating plastic…and it is IN YOU), when we read that even the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, the Marianas Trench, has plastic in it, the time is past when we should act. So, let’s get going!

Let’s start with identifying major players in the plastic pollution world. When people do massive clean-ups along beaches around the world, many inventories are done to identify just what is ending up in the ocean. (This blog is not about addressing the problems of waste management and how trash ends up in the sea. Personal and societal behaviors are a whole other blog subject!)

In a recent inventory of a massive beach clean-up in the Pacific, it became clear that certain brands are packaging their food products in plastic that are showing up in humongous amounts.

plastic pollution survey
source: Eco-Business

It is time for us to tell them to find substitutes. It is time to stop buying those plastic containers and tell them we will go back to their product when they become more sustainable.

Now, some of these corporations have made some changes and a few others have some packaging that is not plastic.  McDonald’s, for example, has posted their goals to be implemented by 2030 (WHAT????? 11 years away??? WHY so long?) to become a more sustainable food service company.  Most of these deal with sourcing their food from more sustainable farming practices. This year they revamped their packaging, getting away from Styrofoam and also not handing out plastic straws unless requested.  Since McDonald’s is global, environmental advocates hope that they will set an example that will be followed by others.

Meanwhile, you have the top users of plastic (Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Nestle) saying they will source all their bottles with recycled plastic by 2025. The problem with sounding green like this is few people realize that less than 10% of all plastic used in the world is actually recycled. That means our appetite for plastic requires more and more NEW plastic to be manufactured.

Image result for plastic trash in ocean
source: Eco-Business

When we hear that as a nation, the US is no longer dependent on oil from the Middle East, it boggles my mind (perhaps yours also) that our pristine wilderness areas in the West and Alaska are now being sold for mineral rights, including drilling for more oil.  The environmental costs will be horrendous as damage is caused that will not be able to be repaired.  The loss of pristine ecosystems, the destruction of habitat, is probably the last thing on the mind of people who seek the next corporate profit.Image result for oil exploration in alaska

But we, the consumers, are what drives profit. We can affect that NOW. If you buy soda, buy it in glass bottles. In fact, look for glass for packaging where many plastics are now used.  Check out GoodGuide to learn how over 75,000 products meet or fail environmental and health standards. Use your buying power to help drive corporations to make healthier decisions for your body and the planet.  Please.

source: Gunther Report

Your Turn

I just finished reading a novel about World War II which centered on a German woman who was in her early 20s when hell came to her town. It described how she struggled to survive while providing for her infant daughter and actions she took that enabled her and her child to eat while sacrificing some portion of her soul. When the Americans entered the area they rounded up all the townspeople and marched them to Buchenwald, the adjacent concentration camp and put them to work for a day burying the dead.  It put the reality of what had been happening next door in front of their eyes. They could no longer be complacent in the fact that they knew….they knew and they did nothing or very little.

We’re there, people. Not a concentration camp killing people in Yamhill County, but as a society we are doing oh so very little to not kill our oceans and our earth.  Even those of us who have acknowledged the monster feel insignificant against the tide of plastic pollution.

In the novel, the main character had been kicked out of her family home because she had become pregnant with a Jewish lover she tried to hide. He had been discovered and taken away, her father had the typical knee-jerk reaction and so she ran. The local baker took her in and taught her to bake. She discovered the baker was bringing extra bread and hiding it in a tree that the camp inmates could access as they marched back from a day of grueling labor to the camp. When the baker was caught and killed, the woman took over. So, even though she could do little, she did that. Afraid always of being caught, tortured and killed, but she did it.

And so must we. We have to change our ways. We’re not at risk yet….but it’s getting closer.  Check out this video.

I don’t know how to reach the people who are not already enlightened. In a previous chapter of my life when I was learning about how many of the foods people chose to eat can cause life debilitating illness, I became angry and my blogs became preachy. A wise woman I did not know cautioned me not to “yell”. No one will listen if I yell. She became a close and loving friend I will always trust, because that is true.  So I want to raise awareness to those people in our community that already don’t seem to have caught on.

Personally, I am struggling with some  knee and hip problems that keep me from walking our wonderful Oregon beaches. The only one I can access is the drive-down beach at Pacific City at the haystack.  That area is so busy that any trash that washes up gets cleaned up quickly. But the other beaches, I have been told, need regular clean-up.

Dead fish on a beach surrounded by washed up garbage.
Source: greenliving.lovetoknow.com

Now, it is not really littering by beach lovers, although there is a tiny bit of that. What is happening is the normal ocean currents and waves carries plastic trash to our sands.  We don’t know the origin of our beach litter, but we know if there is that much on the sand, it stands to reason that our waters are pretty loaded. We love our fresh seafood here in the Northwest and now many ocean animals are dying not only because they are ingesting plastic trash but because the water quality is being affected.   Check out this video. 

What can we do? We’re 50 miles inland and no one here is dumping their garbage in the water we think. So we may think we are not complicit.

But there is another level. It is the choice of what we purchase and use  in our households, in our workplaces, in our recreation.

If we each reduce our dependence on plastic and ELIMINATE our use of single-use plastic, the manufacturers will begin to feel the reduction of income and make the changes that are needed.

For example, we heard a lot of “About time!” comments when McMinnville instituted the plastic bag ban at store checkouts. We also heard a number of complaints from people who just hate change, any change.  Recently, as more and more cities and countries eliminate plastic bags from use in their area, manufacturers are beginning to explore other ways to provide a similar product made from vegetable matter. Those bags will be able to be composted and so, return nutrients to the soil.

bioplastic-bags-made-from-cassava-and-shrimp-
BIOPLASTIC BAGS FROM CASSAVA AND SHRIMP WASTE Source: https://materia.nl/article/bioplastic-bags-cassava-shrimp/

Part of the reason this message has to get out to everyone is because recycling is no longer the easy answer. American culture is kind of lazy; people do the right thing when it is easy. For that reason we have curbside pickup of mixed recyclables and do not require households to sort into the many categories that would make it easier for Recology to find buyers for the material. Therefore, we have mixed collection and even though people are asked to clean the containers, many people do not. This food waste adds up to contamination levels that has lead the Chinese to refuse our trash.

And really, why should we have it so easy to think our trash disappears and we need not be responsible for it?  This is something people have had to deal with from the very earliest civilizations. Midden piles are an archaeologist’s key to figuring out how people lived in that place and time.

What does your trash say about you and your lifestyle?

 

The Struggle with Plastic: Why Recycling is not the Reliable Solution

I went to India a few years ago and saw many wonderful things. But this was not one.

DSCF6504
Monkeys were being relocated from urban centers to a refuge in the countryside and the area was covered in all kinds of litter.
DSCF6498
Towns were also covered in debris, including dry river beds. During monsoon season, all the trash flows into the Indian Ocean.
South Pacific uninhabited island beach
Uninhabited atolls in the Pacific Ocean have trash strewn beaches, all from debris washed to sea. Source: Kolomthota

 

Dead albatross Midway Atoll
Seabirds as well as ocean creatures are found with plastic trash in their stomachs. Mistaken for food, they obviously die from starvation if not clogged digestive systems. Source: http://globetamk.weebly.com

 

Croatian national park beach
And in case you think it is only our Pacific Rim neighbors with bad habits, even the  Adriatic Sea has its similar issues when winter currents brings trash to a national park in Croatia. Source: Tourist board of Mljet
WV roadside trash
And we are well aware that not all of our own neighbors practice good trash disposal habits. This photo was taken in West Virginia but it could be almost anywhere here in the United States.

 

recology truck
Here in McMinnville we have waste removal service that tries to provide the answer. Recology trucks come though our neighborhoods so we can have curbside pickup for items that are recyclable, a separate collection specifically for glass, more for yard waste, and then those items that are destined for the landfill.

 

DSC_0060
And we’ve had it easy. Except for the glass, we are not required to sort our recyclable items. We dump it all in our bins and the trucks take them to the center.

 

DSC_0072
Prior to a recent decision, all these unsorted recyclables were bundled up and sent to China.

However, China recently decided that the mixture they received from us and other areas throughout North America were too contaminated to be useful to them. In other words, that greasy pizza box, those unwashed cans of baked beans, those paper plates from the picnic with the residual potato salad on it all has added up to undesirable trash.

China-map-no recyclables
Source: Packaging Digest

It is time we realize we haven to stop exporting our garbage to China…or anywhere….and take responsibility for it.  So, how do we compare with other nations?

top 25 countries
We can see with this chart that the US is not a leader. However, there are also some discrepancies on how some of these other nations consider their recyclable methods. Some, for example, include metals that are obtained after the incineration process.  Source: World Economic Forum
top 10 countries plastic recycling
So, adjusting to make sure the comparison is the same, we can see that Germany, for example, drops from over 65% to well over 55% , still not shabby behavior on a national level at this time. Source: World Economic Forum

So, how can we here in the United States and more specifically, in McMinnville, improve how we handle our trash?

ttal plastics
The first step is to understand that most of the plastic that was ever produced is still with us.

We have to understand that just because the piece of plastic says it is

RECYCLABLE

RECYCLED

Oh sure, there are some items that are recycled from plastic.  Some  toys, some decking and other outdoor furniture all hold up well. But by and large, we are not addressing the manufacturing market on this issue here in the US.

vermont woods furntirue
Vermont Woods Studios‘s colorful Polywood all-weather outdoor furniture is made from over 90% recycled materials!  Source: https://vermontwoodsstudios.com/

Other nations are ahead of us. Perhaps it is poverty that drives creativity.

Conceptos-Plasticos-recycled-brick-building-2-1020x610
Recyclable plastics are melted and then reshaped into the bricks. This $6,800 house was built from recycled bricks in just 5 days.  Source: Conceptos Plásticos

Perhaps there are issues with building codes, but it is amazing to see the way people in Mexico and Central America are developing low cost housing options that use plastic, either melted and formed into interlocking bricks or building a frame with wire to hold soda bottles and then stuccoing the exterior!

plastic-bottle-house stucco
Source: https://www.dogonews.com/2016/5/28/panamas-plastic-bottle-village-will-be-constructed-from-recycled-pet-bottles

When I saw these houses, understanding we have a different climate and building codes, I believe we might have a low cost solution for housing the homeless.  We certainly have plenty of plastic.

Another exciting use of plastic is turning it into a paving medium. Whether is it low-tech like this road in India

plastic road India
Source: Jamshedpur (India) Utility and Services Company

or this higher-tech version being considered in The Netherlands, perhaps potholes could be a thing of the past.

dutch plastic road
Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/news

It appears that we could take advantage of our 50 year dependence on plastic to build a new industry here in the United States that will improve infrastructure issues.

But now, we also need to REDUCE our use of plastics. This will be the significant step to getting this world wide trash problem under control.

think glocbal act local
source: https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/757845-think-global-act-local

 

 

 

Being a Better Steward

The Bible urges us to be good stewards of the earth….to treat it with respect and care as we mine, farm, and build factories; as we live in or near cities with their traffic and congestion and pollution issues. We often can feel overwhelmed when we hear about the ozone layer being affected, by many water sources now full of chemicals.

Whatever denomination of Christianity you may be or if you belong to another religion or do not practice any faith, there is a reason Earth Day was established in 1970 and this April 20th there is just as many reasons, if not more, to  be concerned and get involved.

A headstart is offered by the Anglican Church. They are offering ways to reduce your plastic consumption during the 40 days of Lent.

Now, I personally am not Anglican, but I can appreciate the effort to encourage us. All of these are important. Some are easy to implement. Others might be a bit more challenging. But can you imagine how much cleaner this world will become if more of us become better stewards?

Check it out!  To read it more clearly go to this link.

Scan_20180220

Scan_20180220 (2)Scan_20180220 (3)

RESISTANCE

Before you get concerned that this is a political post, let me assure you this has NOTHING to do with anything outside of McMinnville and Yamhill County….although we are pretty representative of other places in this nation, ahead of some, trailing behind others.

I’m talking about trash. Versus trash talking. That’s a different blog (only kidding).

We who are involved with the concept of reducing the amount of garbage that goes into our landfill understand that this is not an instant process but must take time to implement a number of small changes.  One recent change, McMinnville’s decision to stop single-use plastic bags being used at the check-outs, is a good example.

First came the understanding that light plastics that end up in our landfill are a big problem. Not only will they fill the landfill, requiring ever more and more space, but they will not decay. And, as anyone who actually takes a moment to stop and look at the landfill will notice, the land around it has a lot of plastic litter blowing in the wind.  This ends up in the Yamhill River and does make it out to the Pacific Ocean over time, affecting sea life.

After learning what other communities did to impose a similar change in plastic bag usage policy, we spoke at great length to managers of the stores in town for their understanding and buy-in before the case was made to the City Council.

The town government then held several opportunities for residents to share their viewpoints. There was an article in the News Register and on local news stations.  Zero Waste McMinnville produced and disseminated information papers at all the major stores at least a month before implementation. We even had tables in front of the supermarkets in order to hand out free reusable totes and to answer questions.info English (2)

 

info Spanish (2)

And yet, even now there is a segment of the population of this city who have not really become informed and are convinced that the charge for paper sacks is a new city imposed tax and one where they had no voice.

Not true.

This is the resistance I am addressing today. Why do people choose to be stubborn?

In reading about resistance to changes made in a business environment certain factors are suggested in setting up the new situation to be as positive as possible.

  1. What are the specific changes needed?  So, here we are urging people to reuse sacks or totes or bags for their shopping. There are lots of opportunities in this town during events to pick up FREE reusable bags let along low priced options at thrift shops and yard sales.  Access to new containers is fairly easy.
  2. Who will the changes affect? Primarily, this most affects the consumers but it also affects the stores.  Consumers needed to change a habit if they already had not noticed, or cared, that our use of plastic has had a negative effect on the environment. The stores had to be the ones who dealt with uneducated consumers, people who just had not heard over the weeks that this plan was being implemented.
  3. How will the changes impact them? Consumers need to learn to carry bags into stores or pay a new bag fee at the check-out. Stores need to stay in compliance with the new regulation and can impose a fee to cover the costs of the paper bags they used to provide for free.
  4. stubborn-behaviour

So, realistically, the new ordinance is not requiring a huge change. Just carry in bags you have used before. You can even carry in the bags you purchased the last time you were in the store since you failed to carry in bags then.

And yet, we have some people in this town who are threatening to drive out of McMinnville to shop to avoid the bag charge. Really? You complain about the 5 or 10 cent bag charge as too expensive but are willing to use how much gas to drive to another town to another store to shop? Really?  That does not make financial sense at all!

So, why are people so resistant to change, even when it really is not a big deal?

  1. Fear of the unknown/surprise. If the people who are reacting in this way are the same people who never heard anything, on local radio or tv, in the local newspaper, or at the checkouts of the supermarket they used for a month before implementation, then they were surprised. But does opting to stay uninformed,  personally choosing to never read the paperwork at the grocery store,  mean this was done without notice? No, plenty of notice was out there….and in a place you normally go.  Not understanding what this new ordinance means is a reason to get curious and ask questions.
  2. Mistrust. People angry about the bag ordinance were almost fully consistantly complaining that the city government had imposed a new tax on them without any chance to speak up.  While this is not a tax and there were plenty of chances to state personal opinions, these residents failed to understand that, and so, are concerned about what else the government might have planned.
  3. Loss of control. If I am used to doing something a certain way and someone says I can’t do it any longer, I also would feel shaken. My first choice would be to find out the WHY behind the new rule. In this situation, concern for the environment is paramount. There are some people who just are not concerned, however. So, they want what they want because they are used to a certain way. Yes, they lost some control…they can not be completely responsibility free any longer when packing their purchases. They either bring a bag or they pay for a bag.  That’s what they have control over.
  4. Bad timing. Someone suggested that implantation take place after the holiday shopping season. Why? The option to delay is just a desire not to implement at all.
  5. An individual’s predisposition toward change. Some people seriously want to do everything the way they learned as children without realizing there are new and wondrous things today that our parents and grandparents never had the chance to enjoy.  It might be an interesting sociological study to see if people resistant to this bag ordinance might also be people who hate trying new foods.

The bottom line is that we continue to have a horrible problem with single use plastics befouling our environment ….and that of our children and grandchildren out to 1000 years!!

The bottom line is that we tend to exaggerate the amount of effort needed to learn a new habit. That we are talking about small tricks that take 5 seconds (oh yes, no exaggeration there) to remind you to carry out bags from your home to your car to take into a store. img_2021 (1)

The bottom line is that we here in McMinnville recognize that we are borrowing this land from our children and grandchildren and we need to turn some problems that have happened in our lifetime around. The use of thin plastic bags at the grocery store is only a few decades old. We can help turn this around. And be proud we did.

We need not be that stubborn. Really.

 

Swimming in Plastic

My first airplane trip was in 1968 when I headed to Puerto Rico on a Girl Scout event. I don’t remember anything much about the flight except I was reading The President’s Plane is Missing and we went through a thunderstorm.

My next trip was in 1972 when I crossed the Atlantic. The flight was fine. I was young and the long trip did not bother me.

I took another flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1981 and I noticed something that I had not seen on the flight 11 years before. In 2010, I noticed it again…and more of it. What was it? White stuff.

Seriously, white stuff?  On the water. And no, I was told we were too high to see white caps on waves.

It was trash.

Our throw away society also is a throw on the ground society.  Trash washes into storm sewers and sometimes directly into rivers, which flow, obviously, into the oceans. Light weight trash at landfills, like the plastic bags you get when shopping at the supermarket,  also gets blown by the wind and where landfills are located near rivers, guess what happens?

So, we’ve been hearing for years now that we have floating islands of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean. Check out this video which was compiled by CNN on Midway, an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles away from population centers along the Pacific Rim.

And, in case you live in the middle of the US or along the eastern seaboard, you are not guiltless. The same problem shows up in the Atlantic, as I noticed from my jet window.  

And yet, most of the plastic in the ocean is NOT large intact pieces. Over 90% are pieces of plastic smaller than your thumbnail. Plastics floating on seawater deteriorate because of the chemicals in the water as well as the sun.  As horrible as the floating islands of large trash are, these tiny particles are even more of the problem. 

We here on the west coast are well aware of the radiation concerns about fish we consume. The meltdown at the Fukishima nuclear reaction with the subsequent leakage into the ocean makes us wary, but this is already on top of the ambient nuclear signature caused by a multitude of bomb tests on various atolls in the 1950s and 1960s.  Now, in addition to those radiation concerns, we need to be aware that fish ingesting small pieces of plastic are most likely entering our diet also.

We have all seen these photos before. Please understand that this is reality. We are not being good stewards of our planet. 

 

 

 

 

So, what can you do? From this day forward, never never never toss your garbage on the ground. Carry it with you from the beach, from the trail, from the backyard. 

Dispose of your trash properly. Recyclables need to be put in the appropriate containers so they can be reused.  Things that can be put into compost need to be. The smallest amount of our garbage should be what goes to the landfill or incinerator.

When I visited India a few years ago,  I saw first hand what happens in a society where trash removal is not a public priority. Now, the government of India is trying to overcome decades of throw-away consumerism. 

We are fortunate that waste disposal is provided in just about every area of the United States. Those people who opt not to pay for trash removal may be part of the issue, but there are many of us who just get sloppy or careless or indiscriminate.

Help model behavior that shows you are a good steward of our planet.  Reduce plastic as much as possible in your life.  Switch from plastic bags to reusable ones you carry into the store when you shop.