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Waste and recycling - March 12

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Volunteer army takes on oceans of trash

Jonathan Hiskes, Gristmill
On a single day last September, some 390,000 volunteers collected 6.8 million pounds of garbage from coastal locations and waterways throughout the world, providing a stark and detailed snapshot of the trash polluting the world's oceans.

They picked up 3.2 million cigarette butts, the most common single item, according to the figures released Tuesday in the Ocean Conservancy's Marine Debris Index.

They retrieved 2.1 million food wrappers, plastic bags, and other items from shoreline recreation activities (like beach picnics), the most debris-causing activity, the report said.

... OK, so on to the bad news: the cleanup just scratched the surface; there's lots more debris in the oceans. The uncollected trash damages fishing and tourism industries, threatens human health, and kills wildlife. Last year's cleanup volunteers found 443 animals entangled or trapped by marine debris and released 268 alive.

"Our ocean is sick, and our actions have made it so," Ocean Conservancy President and CEO Vikki Spruill said in a news release. "We simply cannot continue to put our trash in the ocean. The evidence turns up every day in dead and injured marine life, littered beaches that discourage tourists, and choked ocean ecosystems."

By weakening ecosystems, ocean debris reduces animals' ability to adapt to other stresses, such as climate change.
(11 March 2009)
Related from Reuters: Tidal wave of trash threatens world oceans

Boat made of plastic bottles to make ocean voyage

Brandon Griggs and Jeff King, CNN
Imagine collecting thousands of empty plastic bottles, lashing them together to make a boat and sailing the thing from California to Australia, a journey of 11,000 miles through treacherous seas.

You'd have to be crazy, or trying to make a point. David de Rothschild is trying to make a point.

De Rothschild hopes his one-of-a-kind vessel, now being built on a San Francisco pier, will boost recycling of plastic bottles, which he says are a symbol of global waste. Except for the masts, which are metal, everything on the 60-foot catamaran is made from recycled plastic.

"It's all sail power," he said. "The idea is to put no kind of pollution back into the atmosphere, or into our oceans for that matter, so everything on the boat will be composted. Everything will be recycled. Even the vessel is going to end up being recycled when we finish."
(9 March 2009)

A Call to Go (Nearly) Paperless

Gwen Schantz, AlterNet
It's not just TP that we're addicted to. Paper products make up the largest portion of our waste stream and cutting back has never been easier.
... The advantages to giving up printed news are clear, but when it comes to kicking our addiction to other paper products most Americans aren't jumping on board. Paper permeates every aspect of our lives -- we use it at home, school and work, we wrap our food and gifts with it, read stories off it, and we put it to use when drying our tears and wiping our butts. We use and throw out more paper than any other material, and the pulpy stuff makes up a whopping thirty-two percent of all the tonnage entering our waste stream. Americans trash 83 million tons of paper per year, and we flush away an additional seven billion rolls of toilet paper on top of that. About half of the paper we throw out -- including newspaper, magazines, junk mail, packaging, office paper and cardboard -- gets recycled. The environmental benefits of recycling paper are huge, as producing a ton of recycled paper takes less than half as much water and energy as making paper from wood pulp.

Plus, recycling saves trees. It takes about 17 trees to produce a ton of paper, and often those trees are sourced from sensitive and essential ecosystems and carbon sinks like the Amazon Rainforest and Canada's Boreal Forest. When a tree is cut to make paper only about half of the wood is used for pulp, and recycling our existing paper supply is significantly more efficient and in some (and increasing) cases less expensive than producing new paper from trees.

... Paper is a low-hanging fruit compared to many of the environmental challenges we face. It makes up the largest portion of our waste stream, so a relatively small reduction in paper use would result in a significant drop in overall landfill waste. Recycled paper is doubly effective, not only reducing energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions, but also saving trees that take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Compared to solving the energy crisis and revamping our food system, the paper issue is a featherweight that we could easily tackle with some simple recycling and product sourcing legislation.

People have been hooked on paper for over a thousand years, and the thought of a completely paperless world is not only naïve, it's also kind of sad. Paper is here to stay, but ideally in smaller quantities.
(10 March 2009)
It would be interesting to know how much water and energy go into the production of paper. -BA

As the economy slumps, so does trash

Jennifer Oldham, Los Angeles Times
Landfills receive less because people are buying less. Sometimes that's good news, but not always.
There's an upside to the economy being down in the dumps: Less trash.

Consumers are eating fewer meals away from home, reducing food waste -- the No. 1 space hog at landfills. Contractors are building fewer homes and tossing aside less drywall, lumber and other heavy debris. Pack rats who can't afford to move are postponing cleaning out their closets, landfill operators say.
(January 25, 2009)

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