7 Ways to Launch Your Own Anti-Plastics Movement
By Bibi Farber
The food you ate today was probably sold in plastic packaging, the vehicle you transport yourself in has plastic components, be that a car, bus, bike, train, plane, boat, kayak ... the computer you are reading this article on, even the charger and the wall socket protector … just look around.
It wasn't always this way. We have seen an explosion in the last 65 years. From 1950 to 2013, plastic production went from 1.7 million tons to 300 million tons a year. Then consider that all the plastic that has been produced since its inception is still here. It has not biodegraded, it has not been absorbed by the earth. It is, on the contrary, leaching toxic chemicals and causing destruction to the ecosystem on an unprecedented scale, choking and poisoning our ecological balance.
The dangers are visible, obvious and urgent–and paradoxically, microscopic, out of sight and not of great concern to the mainstream.
As a culture, we have been duped into thinking that recycling is enough of a step in the right direction. Certainly, any plastic we can keep out of the landfills and oceans is great, for whatever time that item is reused or recycled. But it simply postpones the plastic's destructive path and does not mitigate the damage. It's estimated only 25 percent of plastic is recycled anyway. The U.S. has one of the lowest overall recycling rates of any developed nation.
Worse, it keeps us consuming the stuff because we believe if we are recycling, it's ok.
It is not ok. According to The Davos Report by the World Economic Forum the oceans will contain, by weight, more plastic than fish by 2050. And, 77 percent of manmade waste that enters the ocean stays at the bottom. The waste enters the oceans via streams, rivers, drainage and all manner of marine vessels and fishing activities. Looking at the water's surface, you'd never know you're looking at a garbage patch. It's the microscopic plastic particles, small as a grain of salt, which fish mistake for food. The damage is vast: There are an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every single square mile of the ocean, the United Nations Environment Program reported.
The anti-plastics movement is now evolving from simply recycling. Today the goal is to radically reduce our collective plastic footprint, with a major shift in lifestyle and some promising new earth-friendly materials.
Here are some options:
1. Innovative Natural Packaging: Mushrooms Replace Styrofoam
While polystyrene, known as styrofoam, takes thousands of years to decompose, a new mushroom-mycelium packaging made by Ecovative Design, can be disposed of simply by throwing it in the compost where it will biodegrade within weeks. It's solid, does not smell and can be "grown" to fit any package specifications. It's even edible, but perhaps not so tasty! Companies like IKEA and computer giant Dell are already using this amazing product.
Exciting developments are on the horizon for one of the strongest fibers known to man. Plastic can now be derived from plant cellulose. At least 16 U.S. states have legalized industrial hemp production for commercial purposes and 20 states have passed laws allowing research and pilot programs. Hemp is an extremely efficient crop that grows up to 60 feet in just 90 days. It requires few pesticides and no herbicides.
The company Hemp Plastic has a composite material that can be molded for any number of plastic items. Hemp plastic is said to be 5 times stiffer and 2.5 times stronger than polypropylene plastic, which is used in everything from packaging, to lab equipment and textiles. There are thousands of plastic replacement hemp products on the market right now, including for furniture, electronics, fiberglass and other construction materials. Even door panels of some BMW's, Mercedes and Bugatti are manufactured using a hemp fiber basis.
3. Renewable Wood Pulp
Innovia, headquartered in the United Kingdom created NatureFlex products. They look like any plastic food packaging that one might expect to be used for nuts or dried fruit. However they are made from sustainably sourced, renewable wood pulp. They have a high moisture barrier and are fully biodegradable, even in the ocean. In 2010, the company tested its products in seawater and discovered that nearly all disintegrated within four weeks.
Bioplastics are a new type of plastic made from plants. Though there is much less carbon dioxide produced during production, it does have a product footprint. Bioplastics also release carbon dioxide during the biodegrading process and do not biodegrade easily in all environments. Some in fact, do not biodegrade at all. However, they are less toxic than regular plastics.
5. Make it Package Free
Since we can't easily find products packaged in eco-friendly wood cellulose, hemp or mushroom mycelium in our stores just yet, the best place to start is to be aware of all packaging and make every effort to reduce it.
Beginning in Germany, but now all over the world "packaging free" stores are emerging. These stores are designed to sell items in bulk, from pinto beans to hair conditioner. Just bring your own containers, weigh them, fill them up and pay by the pound as you check out. But we don't have to wait for a new store to open. Many health food stores are implementing this system for the items in the bulk section, so you can say goodbye to hundreds of pounds of extraneous packaging (glass, metal, paper and plastic) right away.
Lauren Singer lives a Zero Waste lifestyle in NYC. She is one of the founders of The Package Free Shop, a retail store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "We offer everything that you'd need to transition to a low waste lifestyle in one place," she says. "For us living a package free life means that we are avoiding single use plastic and disposable products to the best of our ability."
In the store, you will find products like bamboo toothbrushes, re-useable cotton rounds for sustainable make up application and removal, and remember those stainless steel ice trays? Just pull the lever and the ice pops out perfectly every time. They sell steel airtight food containers and glass, organic cotton or bamboo replacements for hundreds of household items. Beauty and personal care products are sold in bulk, and in tins and glass jars. They also ship the goods to you, completely without plastic! All shipping materials are 100 percent recyclable and 100 percent compostable. Even the tape is made of paper.
Search here for packaging free stores in the U.S. and Canada: Litterless
Search here for packaging free stores worldwide: Bepakt
Life Without Plastic is another great example of a one stop online shop for safe, high quality ethically sourced, stylish and earth friendly alternatives to plastic products. You can see how to easily replace all that plastic in your kitchen. Use what you have—but there is no need to ever bring home any more.
Take a few minutes to look online at the thousands of new companies now making the plastic free life practical and affordable. Women's make up and personal care products no longer require relentless plastic consumption. How about flip flops made from natural rubber? Purrfect Play makes a whole line of plastic free pet toys.
7. Zero Waste Lifestyle
Zero waste is a term that rallies the goal that all waste will be recycled, composted, repurposed, and preferably never produced in the first place. There are zero waste restaurants and hotels, even stadiums and conference centers. Cities from Buenos Aires to Taiwan to San Francisco have passed zero waste resolutions, with innovative and ambitious plans to reduce consumption, extend recycling, and increase composting.
Zero waste is a revolution in the relationship between waste and people. It is a new way of thinking: There is no "away" when we throw away. We're just parking it somewhere else, at a tremendous cost.
With every purchase you make, consider the importance of the plastic-free future. A few things may cost a few more dollars initially. But the rewards of establishing a new precedent for how we shop, package, eat and consume have never mattered more. When it comes to plastic, it will always be here. Support the alternatives, starting now.
Learn more about the many impacts of plastic pollution at Earth Island's Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Bibi Farber is a songwriter and musician who feels passionately about environmental issues. For four years she published a daily video blog NextworldTV, (still online at www.nextworldtv.com) on topics ranging from food politics and homesteading skills to alternative energy and other solutions for a sustainable future: www.bibifarber.com.Reposted with permission from our media associate Earth Island Journal.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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