Recycle: The Rewards are Endless

You never know what good your everyday actions can do!

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Is your life too plastic?

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To use a Pacific Northwest weather term, I’ve been in quite a fog the past week or so as I battle illness in the form of a cold. I will prevail, by lots of tea-drinking and wishing for warm weather. Onward for updates…

It’s been a busy few weeks at SOLV, when isn’t it busy? Spring planting season is certainly underway and we are busy with Green Team schools; our Women in Science Day event is this coming weekend.  We have some great female mentors in science fields who will be talking with the young female students who are attending and we will also have a tree planting with everyone after the presentation and discussion.  Its amazing to me the amount of young students who are already so interested in this environmental movement, whereas it took me until the age of 19 to figure it out.

Miles, Meghan and I went to a min-conference on Friday at Portland State University about engaging minority and indigenous groups in the sustainability movement; the professor who presented had done research on her home island of Molokai in Hawai’i on youth involved at an organic farm.  While her research was not entirely pertinent to what we do with SOLV, we took a lot away from it as I am hoping to re-establish our Equipo Verde program that existed last year with Spanish-speaking students from a local high school.  Long term stream restoration and community stewardship of a site provide students with a sense of ownership over a place and I do hope that starting this program up again will be successful in engaging students.

In non-work related news, I met Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools and the founder of CAI, on Tuesday evening.  My housemate Chris and I drove up to Longview, WA (which looked a lot like Ridgewood, NJ.. hmm) to hear Greg speak at a high school there; the auditorium was filled with a lot of little old book club ladies, parents and community leaders.  He spoke about his books, his life history as a mountaineer-turned-education advocate and school builder.  To merely be in his presence was so inspiring, but it was easy to see how exhausting his position is; he is travelling constantly, speaking to over 140 schools a year and going between the US and Pakistan/Afghanistan to oversee school builds there.  He labels himself as shy and not a great public speaker, he admits that he doesn’t really even enjoy it and still, people put him on a pedestal and treat him as a celebrity.  He truly is just an ordinary man trying to spread peace through education of children in remote areas of the world who would otherwise not have access to resources and literacy.  Greg shared with us a statistic that was truly eye-opening: in 2000, about 800,000 children (boys) were literate in Pakistan and by 2010, over 8 million children are literate, including nearly 2 million girls.

If you educate a boy, you educate an individual–if you educate a girl, you educate a community. (African proverb)

Through their scholarship support of girls going to high school, building primary schools and women’s vocational centers, CAI is truly embodying their mission of promoting and supporting community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  According to their website, CAI has built over 145 schools and educated 64,000 students, 52,000 of them girls.  Read more about their projects here.

So you know how you get a plastic bag to carry out your lunch or to hold your toothpaste you have to buy in a hurry? That bag is free right? Think again..  Another FANtastic adventure I had this week was with my friend Kim from Fairfield who now lives in Portland (win!) and some of my housemates; we went to the premiere of the documentary Bag It, a film by Suzan Beraza.  Bag It explores the issues of plastic bags as they exist in our world to be used for just a few minutes.

In the United States alone, an estimated 12 million barrels of oil is used annually to make the plastic bags that Americans consume. The United States International Trade Commission reported that 102 billion plastic bags were used in the U.S. in 2009. These bags often wind up in waterways or on the landscape, becoming eyesores and degrading water and soil as they break down into toxic bits. Their manufacture, transportation and disposal use large quantities of non-renewable resources and release equally large amounts of global-warming gases. Ecologically, hundreds of thousands of marine animals die every year when they eat plastic bags mistaken for food.

Senator Mark Hass and Representative Ben Cannon, the sponsors of the Oregon Bag Ban bill, were present for a talk-back after the event.  I recognized some people I have worked with through SOLV and it was great to see such strong support for a bill that would ban plastic bags statewide in Oregon, which would be the first state to do so.  Senator Hass mentioned that much of the delay or friction in passing the bill comes from the plastics industry not wanting statewide bans because that will encourage other states to pass the bill as well.  The American Chemistry Council, who did not choose to be interviewed in any way for the film, is the creator and proponent for plastic bags and has even gone as far to create committees like the Progressive Bag Affiliates to promote recycling of plastic bags.  This just fuels (pun intended!) the creation of more bags and it is a scientific fact that plastic bags don’t degrade at the rate we need them to; they merely dissolve into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic over time, making them prime targets for marine life who mistake them for food.

I learned so much from this movie and the partners who put the event on; check the Bag It website for screenings and bring Bag It to your school or community!

A few more nuggets to share with you before I depart, an environmental news roundup! Wahoo!