By Miranda Fox
The impacts of the government shutdown on the nation's national parks have been widely reported: overflowing bathrooms, decimated habitat and widespread litter resulted in parks that remained open without staff oversight and management. In response, individuals, organizations and corporations have volunteered to help out with the clean-up. One of these is Nestlé Waters North America, which released this statement last week:
"At Nestlé Waters North America, we believe that even one bottle or can that is not recycled properly is one too many. When we heard about the need in our national parks, we wanted to help."
What Nestlé's press statement doesn't address is that this company's commitment to creating single-use products like bottled water makes it one of the largest contributors to the problem. In fact, clean-up audits organized by #breakfreefromplastic found that Nestlé's packaging was among the most frequently littered brands in nearly 200,000 pieces of plastic gathered around the world last year.
Parks report that plastic bottles make up to a fifth of their entire waste stream. The bottled water industry has been trying to stop national parks from going bottled-water-free for nearly a decade. In fact, a Nestlé-backed lobby group, the International Bottled Water Association, spent years lobbying Congress and the Department of Interior to rescind the National Park Service's bottled-water-free policy. And, in 2017, the Trump administration finally did—just weeks after Trump's Deputy Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, who has ties to Nestlé, was confirmed.
To make matters worse, Nestlé has single-handedly depleted water supplies around the country to profit from selling bottled water, causing damage to environmental ecosystems—including national forest land in Southern California. We've been working to stop Nestlé's dewatering of the San Bernardino National Forest for four years, where it bottles water that it pays nothing for from public land. Last year, we forced Nestlé to renew its 30-year expired permit to operate legally within the forest, but we continue to fight for greater environmental protections and to end this egregious use of public water.
Nestlé's marketing scheme is clever but transparent. It continues to obstruct policies and laws that would eliminate plastic waste and protect public, natural spaces. Nestlé is trying to present itself as the solution to the very problem that it profits from. Herein lies the danger of corporate-driven solutions: they never address the broken systems that they claim to fix because corporations are invested in safeguarding what benefits their own economic interests—the broken systems themselves.
Charles Edward Miller / CC BY-SA 2.0
The feud between President Trump and Congress created a 35-day government shutdown—the longest in U.S. history—and reports continue to surface detailing the wide-reaching effects of a government in crisis. Most disturbingly, around 800,000 federal employees missed a second paycheck and turned to food banks, despite expectations that they continued to work. Small businesses couldn't get loans, private companies didn't go public, federal courts were running out of money, and economic losses reached at least 6 billion dollars. Needless to say, these are just a few reasons why a functional government matters.
AFGE / CC BY 2.0
Functional government also matters because, in its absence, already minimal checks on corporate power become nonexistent. Moreover, broken and dysfunctional government systems open the door to corporations like Nestlé whose interests inherently intertwine with an ulterior motive: increasing their own profits. They offer false solutions to profit from problems much larger than overflowing trash bins in national parks, like taking over crumbling water infrastructure systems in major cities like Pittsburgh.
Corporations leap at the opportunity to perform services for positive PR, inspiring positive brand affiliation, or to participate in a public-private partnership. These allow corporations to build relationships with public institutions that pay them for contractual work or eventually sell their public services to the most well-connected private entity, or highest bidder, when debts become too high to reconcile. When the government shuts down, it creates opportunities for corporations to step in. And once they're in, good luck getting them back out.
However, ordinary folks have also been stepping up to volunteer their time to keep things running. These selfless acts should be celebrated and demonstrate what's great in America: people coming together for the common good, working to help others and build community. When services are performed for the public good and not for profit, whether by volunteers during emergencies, or (ideally) by functional, democratic governments, real solutions that tackle some of our greatest problems truly begin to take root. Watch our animation The Story of Solutions to learn more about real solutions and how to change systems so that they work better for us, and not corporations like Nestlé.
Nestlé's Plastic Initiative Called 'Greenwashing' by Greenpeace https://t.co/iARQUzXHQv @Greenpeace… https://t.co/9bk6jNNeNO— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1523457310.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Story of Stuff.
By Miranda Fox
The Swiss multinational Nestlé has been facing increasing scrutiny in Michigan. Outside of the small town of Evart, a mere 128 miles from Flint, Nestlé is attempting to increase how much spring water it is taking for water bottling. Nestlé submitted an application with Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) late last year to increase pumping from 250 to 400 gallons per minute at its White Pine Springs well No. 101 in Osceola County. However, local residents and Michiganders across the state came together in droves at the last public meeting to speak out against Nestlé's proposal. More than 500 attended the meeting, and nearly everyone opposed the application.
I spoke with Jim Maturen, a local police force retiree and avid trout fisherman, who rejected Nestlé's presence in his county when it first appeared in Michigan nearly 20 years ago. Jim served on the Osceola County Board of Commissioners at that time and continues to oppose Nestlé's water grab today.
Jim told me that, originally, Nestlé wanted to establish two well sites in the neighboring state of Wisconsin but the people in New Haven and Newport saw that they were on the receiving end of a raw deal. Nestlé ultimately got the boot thanks to citizen action and a lawsuit. And that's about the time Nestlé successfully approached city and county officials in Osceola and Mecosta Counties, Michigan.
Jim recounted that the zoning laws weren't set up in a way that allowed his board to intervene, and they unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate with the company. The members tried to get water levels monitored by an independent group, a fund set aside to pay for any future damages, and a small percentage of the proceeds to support Evart. Nestlé refused.
Jim reminded me that Nestlé's mode of operation is the same no matter where it goes: the corporation targets small, rural communities, promises that no one will see the effects of its water take, and claims to bring jobs. In spite of Nestlé's promises, the community does see the effects of Nestlé's water grab, and they don't like what they are seeing.
Evart's zoning board recently denied Nestlé the approval it sought for a critical piece of water pipeline infrastructure. This pipeline upgrade would allow more water to move from Nestlé's wellhead (the source) into production for its local bottled water brand: Ice Mountain.
The company quickly appealed the zoning board's decision in court but then asked to put the case on hold pending the DEQ's decision regarding its application to increase pumping to 400 gallons/min. If the DEQ denies Nestlé's request to pump more water, the pipeline expansion would be unnecessary. This seems to indicate that Nestlé is no longer confident that its increased pumping permit is a sure thing.
In Evart, Jim and other members of the community have taken it upon themselves to monitor the conditions of the environment surrounding Nestlé's well sites at Twin and Chippewa Creeks. What he's found spells trouble for the trout and the future of the entire creeks' ecosystems. Trout require cold water temperatures, and with less spring water to cool the creek from the bottom up, Jim found that the water is nearing temperatures that will be too warm for trout if nothing changes soon. But Jim hasn't actually found any trout here this season anyway, probably because he could hardly find enough water to submerge his thermometer. Some areas of the creeks have less than four inches flowing.
Nestlé, as far as Jim's concerned, is killing the creek. And he's frustrated because the DEQ has been relying on computer modeling and Nestlé's internal reports of the creek's condition, when a site visit by any qualified biologist would reveal the lack of water, the warmth of water, and the near-total absence of fish. But, at the very least, public pressure is forcing the state of Michigan to take further action.
Twin Creek in June 2017 with low water levels, Evart, MI The Story of Stuff Project
Last week, the Michigan DEQ told Nestlé to reexamine how its proposal to take more water would impact the local wetlands, streams and natural springs. As a DEQ supervisor put it in his letter, the information provided by Nestlé is just plain insufficient.
While these victories may seem small, our collective citizen muscles are building a movement too powerful to ignore. People have come together, written letters, held town meetings, gone door-to-door, and are taking it upon themselves to protect their most important local resource: water.
This fall we will be releasing our next movie, all about the importance of clean, safe water. We're going to show the bigger story here: the struggle to protect and provide drinking water for all Michiganders, and really for all people. While Nestlé bottles spring water in Evart, thousands have lost access to tap water in nearby Flint and Detroit, ironically forced to rely on that very same bottled water from corporations like Nestlé, just to survive. It's time to speak out against the big-business politics that fuel water privatization, and make a bold claim for clean, safe public water for everyone, everywhere. Join us!
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
A new movie is putting pressure on the clothing industry to address a major emerging threat to aquatic life. Grounded in mounting scientific evidence, the 2-minute animated movie from the Story of Stuff Project calls attention to the issue of microfiber pollution from synthetic clothing.
Along with the movie, a global petition has been launched aimed at major apparel brands, demanding these companies pledge resources to developing solutions and make those pledges public.
Microfibers are tiny plastic threads shed from synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon and nylon. These fabrics currently make up 60 percent of all clothing worldwide and their use as the dominant textile materials are dramatically on the rise. When washed, plastic microfibers break off and a single jacket can produce up to 250,000 fibers in washing machine effluent. Less than 1 mm in size, they ultimately make their way through wastewater plants and into marine environments where they have been found to enter the food chain. Microfibers make up 85 percent of human made debris on shorelines around the world according to a 2011 study.
"We understand that despite clothing manufactures best intentions, our workout clothes, dress shirts, favorite fleeces and even our underwear are polluting our waterways and, potentially, our bodies," said Stiv Wilson, campaign director of the Story of Stuff Project. "This new movie is going to turn up the volume on this issue, expand public understanding and create a chorus of voices demanding accountability and transparency. Our goal is to unlock and encourage collaboration between the clothing industry, scientists, advocates and policymakers, so that we tackle this problem head on and out in the open."
While some companies have started to suggest interim solutions, such as washing synthetics less or capturing the fibers with filters, the Story of Stuff Project and other advocates believe a larger, systemic solution, such as new fabric formulations, is the only true answer.
"Our society has overcome tremendous challenges in the past," said Michael O'Heaney, executive director of Story of Stuff. "If we can put people on the moon, we can make fabrics and clothing that don't pollute the environment and threaten public health."