Design a site like this with WordPress.com
Get started

Thankful Thursday XI – Earth Day

This Thankful Thursday is also Earth Day, so I’m thankful for that!

Earth Day is a pseudo-holiday begun in 1970 to celebrate nature and a healthy environment. As one correspondent on a news show this morning pointed out, that was not long after the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland caught fire, so polluted was it, and less than two decades after a killer smog – from a weather phenomenon that kept coal-burning fumes from rising and dissipating quickly – caused approximately 4000 deaths in London. People were beginning to become aware of the importance of nature, and that keeping our surroundings clean and healthy wasn’t merely cosmetically pleasing…it was essential for our own well-being.

Somehow I’ve always been an environmentalist. As a small child, my family watched a lot of nature shows, and I was fascinated by the animals, and the exotic landscapes they showed. The rain forests, the African savannahs, and even the equally impressive ones closer to home, from the Rockies and Florida ‘glades to the vibrant fall forests I lived close to. We had a bird feeder and I spent many a chilly, snowy winter afternoon watching the comings and goings of a rainbow-array of birds having a meal. My brother was a Boy Scout and one of their community works back then was a “paper drive.” They’d be driven around in pickups or on flatbeds and pick up bundles of newspapers people would leave out for recycling. I was too young to take part, but I admired their efforts. Seemed obvious to me – if all these tons of paper could be recycled and re-used, a lot fewer trees would have to be cut down. In turn, more homes for the birds and bears, and (as I’d learn by maybe grade 5) a lot more oxygen being put back into our air. I was exceptionally happy when the city took over and began collecting paper as well as plastics and metals from everyone for recycling and to this day, I’m the one who is the household “nag”, collecting and rinsing out the empty pop and beer cans, tearing the contact info off the many (too many!) mail order catalogs we keep getting and putting the rest of them into the blue bin, making sure it’s out on the curbside on the right day. Seems like a tiny effort to me, which if duplicated in even half the households of our community, would make a huge difference for the better.

The best, but also most frustrating job I ever had was one I started as a summer job during my college years and carried over for a year or two afterwards, working for a governmental agency responsible for a range of environmental issues ranging from local parks to floodplain mapping and protection of rare plants and animals. It was a fun and interesting job, and over the years I talked to thousands of people of all ages, led tours, pointed out wildlife, interesting edible plants they’d never heard of. I hope something I said or showed at least made an impact on a handful of people and generated seeds that grew into concerned environmentally-aware adults. I conducted biological studies of wild areas near the city and worked on a photo catalog of them. It was a fun and, I felt, beneficial job. The frustration came from the fact that it was governmental and our input on behalf of the environment often became outweighed by commercial, economic influences.

Rivers aren’t catching fire these days, thankfully, and if poor air quality is making people ill or causing asthma, at least we aren’t seeing hundreds per day drop dead from it in big cities. Yet, for that our world isn’t in much better shape than it was on the first Earth Day. There are more of us people and we’re creating more garbage than ever, importing more and more problematic invasive species (everything from fast-growing weeds to hornets to wild pigs) into new areas they don’t belong and seem hellbent on converting the Amazon rain forest into the world’s largest cattle ranch regardless of the consequences for the atmosphere, wildlife or native populations of the area. So we still mark ‘Earth Day.’

Way I see it, this is the only world we have. We hear stories about how life might be possible on Mars, if we find ways to move huge populations there quickly, and build artificial domes and find ways to pump in nitrogen and oxygen and on and on. But for me, I don’t think I’d want to live in an area without trees, flowers, wildlife, living in an artificial climate relying on machinery to allow us to breathe and bring us food from other planets. Seems like putting the money and effort needed to do that would be spent better on keeping this little planet inhabitable. So, I’m thankful for Earth and therefore thankful too for Earth Day.

May Hooray 7

It’s a shame when doing our best to stay healthy results in us living in a less healthy and pleasant environment! So I was pretty happy to come across this story over the weekend.

A company called Avantium has found a way to make “plastic” water or soft drink bottles out of plants instead of traditional oil-based plastics. The result is a bottle which doesn’t require nearly as much fossil fuel, and which won’t stay around forever and ever if not properly recycled. With literally tens of millions of bottles being discarded by the day, they’ve become a huge water pollution problem in the oceans as well as a visual blight in our parks and cities where too few are bothered to put them in a blue bin to recycle, or even find a garbage can. And if they do end up in the garbage, they quickly fill up landfills. Ecowatch say that about 50 billion – billion – plastic water bottles were sold in the U.S.alone last year, up from 42 billion in 2015. And of those, only 23% get recycled. Container Recycling say an average of 60 million plastic bottles (water and pop) go into American landfills daily, or about 22 billion per year. With an average weight of 9 grams (or about 1/3 ounce) per bottle these days, that relates to 225 000 tons of plastic waste per year… and as much being simply tossed out along the roads or in parks or parking lots by the more slobbish among us. These bottles require millions of gallons of oil to make, and take hundreds of years to decompose if dumped. No wonder many were thirsty for a better way to keep from being dehydrated.

Avantium’s bottles are said to decompose naturally in no more than three years if left outside, possibly less in some environments, and being of plant material are biodegradable and if not actually helpful, at least not harmful to the environment. They “can be recycled, or returned to nature without harm,” the company suggests. Currently they’re using corn or sugar beets to make the product, but they soon hope to be able to use “biowaste” – things like the husks of the corn we assume – to do he same without negatively impacting the food supply.

Happily Coca Cola has pledged to have all their “plastic” bottles made of this or other biodegradable products as soon as 2023, as does Danone (a maker of some bottled waters and drinks as well as yogurt.) Brewer Carlsberg are trying out cardboard bottles with a liner made of the Avantium bio-plastic for their beer in some markets. We hope that Pepsico, Dr. Pepper, Anheiser Busch and other mass manufacturers of cold drinks will follow suit, and in the meantime, raise a glass – or plastic bottle- to Avantium and Coke, Danone and Carlsberg.