Cul­tural, pol­icy shifts needed for real change

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near­est trash bin?

Have you ever thought about the life of that plas­tic bot­tle? Has the thought ever crossed your mind that the plas­tic bot­tle has ori­gins tied to nat­u­ral re­sources and a fi­nal rest­ing place that has a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the en­vi­ron­ment?

A plas­tic drink bot­tle is made out of ther­mo­plas­tic, a poly­mer cre­ated when pe­tro­leum — a non-re­new­able re­source — and other prod­ucts are heated and bro­ken down into smaller mol­e­cules.

In a ther­mo­plas­tic, such as your drink bot­tle, the mol­e­cules are held to­gether by weak bonds and can eas­ily be molded into what­ever shape the bev­er­age com­pany de­sires. The empty plas­tic bot­tle is then shipped to the bot­tling com­pany in some form of trans­porta­tion (be it ship, air­plane,

train or 18- wheeler) that con­sumes a pe­tro­leum based fuel.

The bev­er­age- filled bot­tle is then shipped in an­other pe­tro­leum- con­sum­ing ve­hi­cle to the store from where you pur­chased it.

Af­ter you con­sumed the bev­er­age and tossed the empty con­tainer into the trash, you took that bag of trash to the road for col­lec­tion. The plas­tic bot­tle then took its fi­nal ride in a gas- guz­zling garbage truck to the lo­cal land­fill.

In the land­fill, the plas­tic bot­tle will sit for cen­turies, un­able to de­cay be­cause the same char­ac­ter­is­tics mak­ing it the per­fect con­tainer also makes it the en­vi­ron­ment’s worst en­emy — it is vir­tu­ally in­de­struc­tible.

In 2006, plas­tics ac­counted for 11.7 per­cent of all mu­nic­i­pal solid waste cre­ated in the United States, which roughly equates to 14 mil­lion tons of plas­tics in Amer­i­can land­fills, ac­cord­ing to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

Com­par­a­tively, EPA re­ports say plas­tics ac­counted for less than 1 per­cent of the to­tal amount of solid waste in 1960.

New­ton County res­i­dents pro­duce, ac­cord­ing to the Multi- Ju­ris­dic­tional Solid Waste Man­age­ment Plan, an av­er­age of 5.29 pounds of trash per day — nearly one pound more than the av­er­age Amer­i­can.

That num­ber in­cludes plas­tics, and if the New­ton County av­er­age holds true to the na­tional, each res­i­dent, on av­er­age, throws away nearly 225 pounds of plas­tic each year.

The nearly 100,000 res­i­dents of New­ton County will con­trib­ute an es­ti­mated 22.5 mil­lion pounds of waste each year.

That plas­tic will sit in the land­fills be­yond the life of your chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, great- grand­chil­dren and great- great- grand­chil­dren.

Are you leav­ing a legacy of trash and when do we run out of land­fill space to hold all of that trash? So what’s the an­swer? The root of the prob­lem is as mul­ti­fac­eted as the uses of plas­tic it­self with the an­swers just as nu­mer­ous.

A cul­ture of con­sump­tion in the Unites States may be at the heart of the prob­lem of waste, but can a cul­tural norm be re­versed and a new norm es­tab­lished in this coun­try?

Ac­cord­ing to Ox­ford Col­lege An­thro­pol­ogy Pro­fes­sor Dr. Va­lerie Singer, the Amer­i­can cul­ture has changed in many pos­i­tive ways over the decades, but it has also de­te­ri­o­rated.

“ When I was younger it was com­mon for my par­ents to car­pool to work,” Singer said. “ But now you see very few peo­ple do­ing that.”

Ac­cord­ing to Singer, though the Amer­i­can con­sump­tion rates are sig­nif­i­cantly higher than other first­world na­tions like those in West­ern Europe and Ja­pan where the qual­ity of life is just as high as in the United States, Amer­i­cans are hes­i­tant to change their way of life.

“ From a cul­tural per­spec­tive, one thing we don’t have that we should is a sense of com­mu­nity,” Singer said. “ We don’t think of how our per­sonal ac­tiv­i­ties can af­fect the com­mu­nity around us.

“ That is a cul­tural shift that needs to hap­pen.”

Mak­ing the cul­tural par­a­digm shift in Amer­i­can homes — by mak­ing changes in homes that not only re­duce

plas­tic green­house gas emis­sions but also change the ex­pec­ta­tions of Amer­i­cans — can cause a change in pol­icy mak­ing; there­fore, hav­ing a greater im­pact on global cli­mate change.

Ac­cord­ing to Singer, some old- fash­ioned cul­tural val­ues could ben­e­fit the en­vi­ron­men­tal cause in the United States.

“ We don’t share the same way we used to,” Singer said. “ Not just rides to work, but re­sources. Like why does ev­ery­one on a street have to own a rid­ing lawn­mower in­stead of shar­ing one with the block.”

Singer said shar­ing can be a way to re­duce con­sump­tion, but our cur­rent cul­tural norms sug­gest oth­er­wise.

“ It has be­come a cul­tural value to have a lot of stuff,” Singer added. “ Like the bumper sticker that says, ‘ Whoever dies with the most toys wins,’ that’s re­ally a sad way to look at life.”

Singer also sug­gests that the Amer­i­can cul­ture of con­sump­tion also makes it dif­fi­cult to buck the sys­tem even for those who typ­i­cally are not ma­jor con­sumers.

So where does the cul­tural shift be­gin?

Some sug­gest at home.

Start­ing at home

The EPA sug­gests mak­ing small changes at home not only re­duces a house­hold’s car­bon foot­print but also saves money on en­ergy costs. Ac­cord­ing to the EPA, nine steps can be taken to lessen each house­hold’s im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment.

The steps in­clude re­plac­ing the five most used con­ven­tional light bulbs in a home with com­pact flu­o­res­cent ( CFLs) bulbs, which use about 25 per­cent less en­ergy that the con­ven­tional bulb.

Ac­cord­ing to David Ger- shon’s car­bon re­duc­ing pro­gram, “ Low Car­bon Diet: A 30 Day Pro­gram to Lose 5,000 Pounds,” where lights are on at least four hours a day, 100 pounds of car­bon diox­ide will be saved an­nu­ally per bulb.

Ox­ford Col­lege Bi­ol­ogy Pro­fes­sor Theo­dosia Wade sug­gested start­ing with a light bulb change at home as the sim­plest way to get the ball rolling.

“ You can ac­tu­ally look at your elec­tric bill and see how much money you saved,” Wade said. “A lot of peo­ple re­ally want to make a dif­fer­ence and that’s some­thing that ev­ery­one can do. You don’t have to be a cli­ma­tol­o­gist or work for a big oil com­pany to make a dif­fer­ence.”

Wade said she con­tin­ues to look for ways to cut en­ergy con­sump­tion in her home. She said she re­cently be­gan hang­ing as much laun­dry up in her laun­dry room as pos­si­ble to de­crease the num­ber of dryer loads.

“ For some­one else, it might be that they try to buy more lo­cal or­ganic pro­duce,” Wade said. “ I’ve tried not to buy ba­nanas be­cause they come from South Amer­ica and it takes a lot of nat­u­ral re­sources to get them to the gro­cery store, but blue­ber­ries come from Florida and Chile so I only try to buy them when they come from Florida.”

Wade said changes at home def­i­nitely have a pos­i­tive im­pact on green­house gas emis­sions, but key pol­icy changes are needed at the gov­ern­men­tal level to see even more wide­spread change.

She al­luded to a court case in which the state of Mas­sachusetts, along with sev­eral other states, sued the EPA be­cause of the agency’s fail­ure to mon­i­tor car­bon diox- ide lev­els in the at­mos­phere de­spite mon­i­tor­ing other green­house gases.

Wade said the states won the court case, which is a land­mark case for en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, who have called for gov­ern­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing of car­bon diox­ide lev­els.

“ I’m very hope­ful,” Wade said in an ear­lier in­ter­view about ac­tion be­ing taken to con­trol cli­mate change. “ The rea­son is be­cause I think a lot of peo­ple are con­cerned about this.

“ Most peo­ple that I en­counter have some con­cern about the en­vi­ron­ment in which they live and the stu­dents we see com­ing through the col­leges are ex­tremely con­cerned about it.”

Re­duc­ing an in­di­vid­ual’s car­bon foot­print for the fu­ture will re­quire res­i­dents to re­duce, re­use and re­cy­cle — not just as a moniker but as an ev­ery­day lifestyle.

That same plas­tic bev­er­age bot­tle that can sit in the lo­cal land­fill for cen­turies can find a new life in a re­cy­cling cen­ter.

In­stead of toss­ing the empty bot­tle into a reg­u­lar trash bin, pitch it into a re­cy­cling bin. The re­cy­cling bin is set out on the curb for col­lec­tion by the re­cy­cling com­pany and sent to a re­cov­ery fa­cil­ity where the plas­tic is sorted by type of plas­tic then baled and sent to a re­claimer.

Ac­cord­ing to the EPA Web site, once the plas­tic ar­rives at the re­claim­ing cen­ter it is washed and ground into small flakes that are dried, melted, fil­tered and formed into pel­lets. The pel­lets are shipped to prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ing plants and made into new plas­tic prod­ucts.

A new life for a bot­tle you were just go­ing to throw away.

In­stead of cen­turies of fill­ing a land­fill, a re­cy­cled bot­tle can play a role in the bet­ter­ment of the lives of your chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, great- grand­chil­dren and great- great- grand­chil­dren.

miles per year. Each mile driven is equiv­a­lent to a pound of car­bon diox­ide. Re­duc­ing the num­ber of driv­ing miles

by walk­ing or bik­ing re­duces en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

stream of wa­ter, short­en­ing the length of show­ers can re­duce the amount of en­ergy one uses for heat­ing wa­ter.

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