Friday, March 23, 2012

Plastics - Green Washing Recycling

The increasing media attention to plastic pollution is an encouraging sign.  One by one cities are implementing plastic bag bans or use fees.   The plight of the oceanic garbage patches have reached mainstream media.   But plastic consumption is still rising, one study estimates that by 2015 individual usage in North America and Europe will increase by 40%, in Asia it is closer to 50%.  We already have a major plastics problem, so what are we to do with all this additional plastic?

By now, everyone has heard of the 3 R's, but it seems more attention, even by major environmental groups, is being paid to the third and last R – RECYCLE.  On a recent trip to The National Zoo, I noticed the following “informational” trash can:

Doesn’t it give you the warm fuzzies?  “Look ma, it’s OK to buy plastic water bottles because look at how much energy we are saving by recycling!”  So that got me thinking, aren’t  they just green washing the truth?  Why not tell us how much energy we can save by reusing and NOT buying and recycling a single-use plastic bottle.

I thought this would be an easy task, but after scouring the internet for a few hours, I found only one study that attempted to estimate the energy required to produce plastic (PET) water bottles.   

The 2009 Pacific Institute report, Energy Implications of Bottled Water (, breaks down the energy required for each phase of production.  Their findings show that it takes 5.6 – 10.2 MJ of energy to manufacture, treat, fill, and transport for a single 1 L plastic water bottle.  In comparison, tap water takes 0.005 MJ/L to produce.

Energy intensity (MJth/ L)
Manufacture plastic bottle
Treatment at bottling plant
Fill, label, and seal bottle
Transportation: range from three scenarios

So how does that compare to our sign claiming recycling a single bottle can power a 60-watt bulb for 6 hours?  If we take the average of the energy required from the study, 7.9 MJ/L, and convert that to watt-hours (1 watt-hour = 3600 J), you can power a single 60-watt light bulb for approximately 37 HOURS

Extrapolating by assuming that every American uses 200 plastic bottles/year, that is equal to powering a 60-watt bulb for 308 DAYS

Unlike most of our plastic problems, this solution is easy: bring and refill your own reusable bottle.  So why are we not advocating that little fact more? 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recycling, So Easy My Mom Can Do It!

I never realized how lucky I was to live in DC with curbside recycling. All I need to do is separate and carry my recyclables a few feet and poof it magically disappear.

According to a 2009 EPA study approximately 9,000 community curbside recycling programs exist in United States, increase over reported 2002 figure of 8,875 That still leaves a lot of people without any means to recycle, so it's no wonder that we are still sending 131 millions tons of trash to landfills each year. (

While recently visiting my parents, I learned that they have to drive up to 7 miles to find the nearest recycling trailer! My parents already started composting their food waste (I did encourage adding in the coffee grounds), but we needed to work on the metal, glass, and plastic waste.

First up, those annoying plastic bags!

I have to hand it to my mom, she is doing good by taking her excess plastic bags (the ones she didn't line the garbage cans with) back to the store to be recycled.  I explained that even if those bags were being recycled (and I'm not convinced they are), wouldn't it be better to simply reuse the bags you already have?  So on her weekly trip to the grocery store, we gathered up her extra bags to reuse at the checkout.  Success!  The trick, of course, will be to make sure she remembers to take the bags or better yet get her enough reusable bags to keep in her car.

Baby steps my friends, baby steps!

Next up: Reducing!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another City, Another Ban!

Congratulations to the newest city to approve a plastic bag ban - Portland! The measure passed city council unanimously this afternoon and will go into effect on October 15th.

Portland joins 47 municipalities in the United States and 40 countries worldwide with either an outright ban or a bag fee.

Way to go to Rise Above Plastics!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

World Oceans Day 2011

In 2008, the U.N. declared June 8th to be "World Oceans Day" in order to bring awareness of the ocean and it's value to people from all aspects: The oceans are essential to food security and the health and survival of all life, power our climate and are a critical part of the biosphere. The official designation of World Oceans Day is an opportunity to raise global awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans.

Being in D.C., land-locked and entrenched in yet another sweltering pre-summer heat wave, I decided to celebrate the day by attending a lecture by National Geographic Oceans Fellow Dr. Enric Sala entitled The Last Wild Places in the Ocean at SI's National Museum of National History. (Click on the link to watch this amazing webcast.)

Enric with his delightful Spanish accent posed a question to the audience, "What is your first memory of the ocean?"  He paused for a few moments to let everyone think back and pointed out that this is the baseline upon what one compares every thought of the ocean since.  Well for me, that wasn't a great baseline.  So it got me thinking, where did my love affair with the oceans come from?

Being from a speck of a village in eastern Ohio, there wasn't much thought of the ocean.  It was hours away by car and for a kid it might as well been on another planet.  I did love to watch the great Jacques Cousteau's underwater adventures, but thought those places were so far out of my reach.

I finally took my first trip to the ocean at age 8.  Mind you I thought I was very acquainted with the water as my family vacationed yearly on the lovely Lake Erie who at that time was still recovering from being deemed a "dead lake".  Still, my first experience of the ocean wasn't what you would call love at first sight.

After a ridiculous multi-day, Wally World-style trip to Florida, that included at least one over-heated radiator (and subsequent repair), my first encounter with cockroaches in the unplanned visit to a motel while said car was being fixed, we landed in Daytona Beach, Florida.

My first thought was why is the water and sand so brown?  Where is the blue water and white sand?  Why do they let cars drive on the beach?  (I'm still wondering that one by the way.)  I hated everything about it, the waves, the sand in my bathing suit, the way my eyes stung.  My first encountered with the ocean lasted approximately 1 hour when I then begged my parents to take me back to the hotel pool.

I didn't let that first encounter deter me.  I went to Cocoa Beach for a high school trip and participated in releasing baby turtles back in the sea.  Watching them scurry across the sand and into the water gave me such a sense of pride and amazement.  I've snorkeled with manatees and my love affair grew.  I've explored the reefs in the Keys and the Caribbean.  I learned to scuba dive.  And most importantly, I learned to surf.

Surfing for me has opened my eyes to what the ocean is, the life and soul of this planet.  There is nothing more serene, nothing more awe-inspiring for me than sitting out on your surfboard in the early morning when the water is glassy and smooth, looking out into the great vastness simply watching the waves roll in.  You feel connected, grounded to the natural world.  You realize you are apart of something bigger, something that needs to be protected so others can feel this same way for generations to come.

So after what one might call recent serendipitous events, I've decided to start a new chapter of my life.  One where I intend to do what I can to study, preserve, and protect this wondrous, blue planet - the one I fell in love with.


Monday, March 7, 2011

BAG IT OREGON! - Take Action!

From the Surfrider Foundation website...

Single-use plastic bags represent one of the greatest environmental catastrophes of our generation. It is estimated that 60-80% of all debris in the ocean is land-based plastic. Plastics take hundreds of years to break down at sea and most types never truly biodegrade. As a result, marine animals often get entangled in the debris or mistake it for food.

For these and other reasons, the Oregon Chapters of the Surfrider Foundation are urging the Oregon State Legislature to pass Senate Bill 536 that promotes the use of reusable bags, bans plastic checkout bags and requires retailers to charge for paper checkout bags.

Starting on Friday, March 4th and running through Thursday, March 10th, the Hollywood Theater will present Bag It, a humble documentary that makes a lasting impression about the prevalence of plastic in our daily lives.

Check out the trailer below:

Bag It Intro from Suzan Beraza on Vimeo.

For more info on how you can help, check out the Portland Chapter's Ban the Bag Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How to Choose a Surfboard for your Dog

In honor of my puppy Omar's 8th birthday, I've dedicated this post to him (albeit he's a bit afraid of waves).


Want to take your canine buddy surfing with you? Plenty of keen surfers do; it just takes a little patience in teaching your dog, as long as your dog is willing to try it out. Fortunately, today's modern surf doggy has many options when choosing the right board. This article discusses a progression through which you can encourage your dog to use different types of surfboards to surf either individually, or in tandem with you.

  1. Start with a boogie board. Boogie boards have the speed and maneuverability that a dog may be able to maneuver better. It is small and a dog tends to feel that it can control it better, so this is the best board to start your dog with.
  2. Get a soft top. Hard fiberglass resin boards are tough for a dog to grip. If you do use a resin top, reduce the slipperiness by putting on a deck patch, which is some rough material glued to the surface of the board. However, it will still be hard for your dog to stay on. Foam soft top boards works better for dogs because they can get a grip by digging in their claws to get more traction and stay on top.

  3. Try moving to a longboard. As your dog progresses from the boogie board, a longer board allows for more margin of error. Your dog can navigate from the nose of the board. It is also great for tandem surfing with you, as your dog can grip on to the board at the nose and get better traction with the claws.

  4. Rock on. The more curvature to the board, the easier it is for your dog balance on the wave. The older boogie boards tend to have more curve, are softer, and are better for dogs to balance on. The newer ones are very flat. You might be able to pick up older ones from online auctions or used surfboard dealers.
  5. Be prepared for chewing. Your dog will become attached to its favorite board and in response, will probably chew it. Expect it, along with all the claw marks from digging in. See it as your dog modifying the board for its own personal use. And in other words, if it's your prize board and you don't want bite or claw marks in it, don't use it with Fido!