20 May 2010

End of Year Recycling Tally

38,474.3 pounds.

19.2 tons.

Of recycling. This does not include the secure paper that gets collected, which I would guess is at least another few thousand pounds, and it definitely doesn't include all the items that were collected during Give and Go to be reused, or any of the composting that was done (another few thousand pounds).

Yes, it is the end of the year. And over the course of the spring semester, the recycling team collected a grand total of 38,474.3 pounds of recycling. Over the course of the entire year- 65,078.4 pounds (32.5 tons). Well done, recycling team. Well done. That is the equivalent of 12 adult male Asian elephants. Or 260 newborn elephants.

I have to add that a few thousand pounds of that recycling was done in the last week of term, after finals, when everyone apparently cleaned out every single liquor bottle they had drank throughout the year. I could tell, because they had signed and dated each and every bottle, and many of them dated back to September. I'm not sure what has prompted this trend, but it certainly makes end of year recycling a lot less fun. All those glass bottles are pretty heavy.

I also found, as I was recycling, several couches, refridgerators, tvs, two countertop grills, a coffee maker, a VCR, an untold number of lamps and trash cans, about a million storage boxes of some variety, a lot of unopened beers, books, clothing, two pairs of rubber boots, bedding, pillows, a desk, hundreds of hangers, vases, and a fish bowl. Oh, and my personal favorite, a deck of Bible Go Fish cards. I'm kind of mystified by how all these things get thrown away. We do offer a pick up for unwanted items- there is a drop off in the Student Center, where items can be left to be donated to thrift stores and the food pantry. But apparently some people were uninterested in taking the time to move their goods to the appropriate place. Leaving them instead for the poor housekeepers (and me) to haul away.

So while we've done an excellent job at recycling, we've still got a ways to go. Next year let's make it the goal to reduce as much waste as possible- and not just the bottle and can kind!!

Here's a fun post on recycling written by one of my favorite people ever, the trash guru clickclackgorilla: Save the Earth with Our Easy 12-Step Program


06 May 2010

The Topic on Our Minds

Oh, the oil spill.

I’ve been avoiding writing about it, because it’s almost like, what can you say? I’m not surprised by it. Some people have expressed to me their disbelief that such a thing could occur: we thought the oil rigs were safe! I’m not sure what universe they’re living in, but I was never under the impression that they were safe. Have they been saying that on the news? I mean, when you think about it, what about an oil rig makes you think “that sounds like a brilliant idea”?

“Since 2001, 858 fires and explosions have broken out on oil and gas industry facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, killing more than 55 workers, according to the US Minerals Management Service.” - BBC


And of course, the irony is that this happens at the same time that Obama, supposed liberal hope of the future, approves offshore drilling. Hardy har har. It’s almost too coincidental to believe. It’s almost like his opponents went and caused an oil spill just to make him look like an idiot. Or that some group did it to raise opposition for off shore drilling. Or maybe it is a conspiracy to drive the price of oil up… by dumping half of what’s left into the ocean, there will be less of it? And then they will be forced to open the Atlantic to drilling because they will claim, like the flat out liars they are, that this will lower the prices again.

Here is part of a statement from Oceana that I think sums it up nicely:
Despite the oil industry’s statements, events like this one will happen again unless we act to prevent them. It is time for the U.S. to recognize that the risks of offshore drilling far outweigh any benefits. We must stop ignoring government studies showing clearly that expanded offshore drilling does nothing for the consumer: it does not lower the price of gasoline and it will not make us energy independent. As we watch the response efforts in the Gulf, and try to imagine the sheer magnitude of oil gushing from the bottom of the ocean with no end in sight, it is clear that our ability to find oil far outstrips our ability to respond to a blowout.

I think this is so hard to write about because it hurts, so, so, terribly. The sheer amount of devastation that comes from a spill like this- the lasting devastation- the loss of wildlife, of habitat, of livelihoods for thousands who depend on the sea for their incomes- it’s hard even to comprehend. And what is even harder to wrap your mind around is the fact that people want it to continue. People want underwater drilling to continue. People are willing to take the risk of THIS MUCH DAMAGE just so we can have a pittance more oil. Because that’s all you’re going to get out of the earth, at this point. There are only so many dead dinosaurs we can dig up.

The fact that the US government would be willing to spend billions of dollars chasing the pipe dream of additional oil, rather than say, oh, I don’t know, cut back on the amount of oil used, proves to me (as if I needed more proof) that the government does not have our best interests in mind. It has the interests of the lobbyists that pay the most. And those would be the oil companies. When I read the statements from legislators saying things like “we need this oil” and “with more research, this will never happen again,” I’m so angry I can’t even see straight. Both are blatant lies.

I think what disturbs me even more is the support American people have given to the concept of drilling offshore. There was an opinion piece in the college newspaper just last week arguing in favor of using more oil. This just makes no logical sense. There is no more oil, and the sooner we get that into our heads the more chance we’ll have to avert complete disaster. In the article the student argued that it is her lifestyle choice to use more oil, and that no one should be able to take that away. Which is fine, except that her lifestyle choice has caused tragedies like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. All of our lifestyle choices have. If you drive a vehicle, if you use ANYTHING made out of plastic, if you have power in your home, if you eat anything in a grocery store, if you buy anything from a store, it doesn’t matter if it’s the greenest hemp reusable bag out there, it used oil. And using oil causes oil spills. There is NO WAY AROUND IT. None. Don’t want oil spills? End the use of oil. Period. It belongs in the ground. It was there for a reason in the first place.

Sadly, people are delusional. I was having a conversation just the other night with two very intelligent young men- who were still arguing that it’s ok, we’ll find a technical fix long before oil runs out. But this is not the case, because we simply don’t have the time. Time’s up. Time to make a change. Time to end dependence not just on foreign oil, but on all oil. NOW. Because if you think this oil spill is a disaster, wait until you see what happens where there is simply no oil left- when people start starving to death because there are no more oil based fertilizers to make crops grow, when there are no more trucks to transport food, when suddenly oil is so scarce that our entire economy collapses under the increased price of literally everything- because that’s where we’re headed, people. There’s no way out. Not so long as we allow the status quo to remain.

Not so long as we ignore the fact that the US government is more interested in appeasing lobbyists than in the future health and safety of the entire US population.

One last note from the news, and the only person in the news I’ve actually agreed with: "That's what's sad about this opportunity," says Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation. "We're going to expend a lot of energy towards these moratoriums when we could be addressing the underlying problem, which is the oil consumption itself."


21 April 2010

Things to Do This Weekend!

Readers, April is a difficult month for posting because there's so much going on. In fact, there's so much going on, that I thought I'd post the entire list, here for your perusal. All events are free unless otherwise specified:

Thursday, April 22
11am – 2pm
Hodson Hall Commons and Cater Walk
An open community event for students, staff, faculty and friends of the college featuring foods from local farmers on our menu. We will be hosting a farmers market along Cater walk and showing the film "2 Angry Mom’s" in the Center Stage.
Fee to general public for lunch buffet $6.00

Friday, April 23
"Nourishing Traditional Diets for the 21st Century", a talk by Sally Fallon

Author Sally Fallon Morell exposes the dangers of low-fat diets and urges a return to traditional food choices and preparation techniques. She will speak in Hynson Lounge, Hodson Hall, Washington College. Sponsored by the Anthropology Department and the Center for Environment & Society.

Saturday, April 24
Mutt Strut & Earth Day Festival
9:00 AM to 1:00 PM
Fountain Park & Memorial Row

The Kent County Humane Society, the Town of Chestertown, and Washington College's Center for Environment & Society will present the annual Mutt Strut & Earth Day Festival in downtown Chestertown on Saturday, April 24, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Festivities begin in Fountain Park with the Farmers' Market, live music, and registration for the 13th annual Mutt Strut. The dog parade starts at 10 a.m. and winds through Town, finishing at the Courthouse where Shelter Associate Courtney Phelps presides over a series of "pawsitive" pet tricks, canine competitions and agility contests. There is a $10 registration fee for Mutt Strut, while Earth Day and pet fair festivities are free and open to the public.
Earth Day features eco-friendly exhibitors, crafters and vendors; free paper shredding; free recycling of fluorescent bulbs; free recycling of rechargeable- and alkaline batteries; environmental education, and opportunities for kids of all ages to learn why it is important to take care of Mother Earth's air, land and water. "The social, environmental and economic choices we make today have real consequences for the planet," says Mayor Margo Bailey.
For more information, call 410/778-7295 or visit ces.washcoll.edu and www.kenthumane.org.

* 8:00 AM - Farmers' Market opens in Fountain Park
* 9:00 AM - music begins on Memorial Row
* 9:00 AM - dog walkers register in Fountain Park
* 10:00 AM - dog parade begins
* 10:30 AM - dog agility contests begin in Fountain Park
* 1:00 PM - festival ends on a happy note

Mutt Strut & Earth Day is a community event sponsored by the Town of Chestertown, the Kent County Humane Society, and the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College.

Sunday, April 25
Taste of the Town
Featuring sampler plates of the signature dishes of 15 of Chestertown’s finest restaurants and caterers, including the beneficiary of the event, the Culinary Arts program of the Kent County High School.

Participating restaurants and caterers range from nouvelle gourmet to those famous for regional classics such as Maryland Crab Soup.

The tented event will take place from 12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m in Chestertown’s waterfront Wilmer Park.

In addition to food, Taste of the Town will offer beer, wine from the local Cassinelli Winery, beverage stations, a cookbook sale, raffles for restaurant gift certificates and
a live auction of select premier items donated by restaurants and sponsors.

"Skipjack: America's Last Sailing Oystermen", Christopher White and the Watermen of Tilghman’s Island
5pm – 6pm
Decker Theatre, Daniel Z. Gibson Center for the Arts
Join us for a powerful discussion about the decline of the oyster harvest and the future of the oystermen's way of life. The event will include a talk by Christopher White, author of the critically-acclaimed new book, Skipjack: The Story of America's Last Sailing Oystermen, and a unique public conversation with four legendary senior skipjack captains: 89-year-old Arthur Daniels, Jr. and his son Stan Daniels, both of Deal Island, and Wade Murphy, Jr. and Stanley Larrimore of Tilghman Island.
You are invited to "Meet the Captains" at the post-program Oyster Reception and book signing. Attendees will also have an opportunity to explore a remarkable exhibition of skipjack-inspired art, including photography, paintings and models by Chesapeake masters Marion E. Warren, A. Aubrey Bodine, John Barber, Carolyn Egeli, Tim Bell, the CBMM Modeling Club, and many others.
The event is co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College.


01 April 2010

McDonalds Scraps Composting Program Because Food Won't Decompose

McDonalds Scraps Composting Program Because Food Won't Decompose

Scary cause it's true. Or is that funny cause it's true?


24 March 2010

Pointing the Finger

I was reading the book Cunt (Inga Muscio) again last night and had a thought. If you aren’t familiar with the book, it is a feminist book that attempts to reclaim the term “cunt” as a woman-positive word. I was reading the chapter on rape and abuse, and she finished it by suggesting that if women loved their vaginas, really loved them, they would not be so inclined to allow the silence and shame in regards to rape and abuse continue. The thought is, that if you really love something, you will stand up for it. What allows women who suffered rape or abuse to remain silent, and not to run out trying to find their attacker and kick his butt to kingdom come, is often a feeling that somehow they are at fault, or that they deserved it, or some kind of convoluted psychological analysis that leaves them feeling helpless and victimized but blaming themselves, not the perpetrator.

We have this problem in general, in our culture. We blame the victim. An author whose book I am in the middle of reading was attacked last week while in the middle of giving a talk- attacked by people who were supposed to be on her side. On the radio and online, people blamed her for the attack. Oh, she deserved it. Oh, she brought it on herself. She is a slight, middle aged woman with a spinal disease that renders her body very fragile. She was talking about the harm that agriculture does the environment. And for that, she deserves to be attacked? Really? She brought it on herself?

The point I am aiming for is that this happens in the environmental field, too. Environmentalists very often blame themselves for allowing the environment to be destroyed, or something. Like somehow they are personally responsible for deforestation, because they use toilet paper. They may be against deforestation, they may dedicate their entire lives to eradicating deforestation, but somehow it must be their fault that it continues. I myself am often guilty of this supposition. I have dedicated my entire life to trying to stop the destruction of the environment, but it hasn’t stopped, and there are many times when I despair and blame myself.

There are two reasons, I think, for this tendency. First, we are taught to take it personally. Recall the ending to An Inconvenient Truth. If you haven’t seen it, basically you are given a list of things you personally can supposedly do to stop climate change. They include things like changing light bulbs. I have spoken before on this blog on why I don’t believe for a minute that changing light bulbs will stop climate change. But this is common: most environmental books, most documentaries, most news reports, all end with what YOU are supposed to do to end climate change. Not once (at least in conventional circles) does someone say, you know what, I bet there are some things major industrial polluters could do to stop climate change. Not once does someone say, wow, I bet if those big polluting factories shut down, that would really help at least slow down climate change. Because it is clearly our fault. It’s because of what we’ve done, not because of what the big polluting factories have done.

The second reason is related. I’m reminded of the scene in Grapes of Wrath where a neighbor comes along and tells the family they have to leave their farm (and I am majorly paraphrasing here, because I don’t have a copy), because the land has been foreclosed or something. A company owns it now. The family asks, well, who is this company? Who are they, so we can go shoot them? And the neighbor answers, they are no one, they are just a company. There is no one to shoot.

We have this idea that companies, or corporations, or the government, or NGOs for that matter, are these entities that have no faces. How can we hold them accountable, if we can’t find someone to shoot (metaphorically)? When people first become conscious of environmental devastation (for many of us, this happens when we are children), they want to lash out at someone, anyone. And they realize that major corporations are a pretty big source of the problems. But how do you stop a corporation? Who are they? And so we blame ourselves, because the prospect of attempting to defeat a corporation is just too much to handle.

But it is not your fault. It is not my fault. It is THEIR fault. And a corporation is nothing but a group of people acting together. They have faces. They have names. They have no more power than they are allowed- and by hiding behind an “entity”, as they call themselves, they have an awful lot of power right now. But we have NO reason to remain silent and shameful, about rape or about the rape of the environment. If we love our environment, truly love our environment, and stop beating ourselves up because we sometimes have kind of a shaky relationship with it, we will do anything in our power to stop the abuse. Won’t we? Or are we too afraid of a bunch of random people who are too afraid to make their individual identities publicly known?

Rapists get off because they are sure the women they rape will not speak out against them, and that even if they do, they will not take matters into their own hands to make sure that rapist can never rape another woman again. Corporations get off because they are sure people will not actually speak out against them, and that even if they do, they will not take matters into their own hands to make sure that corporation can never rape another woman, I mean the environment, again. They are so certain of their power that they count on our fear and our own sense of powerlessness to keep us from acting.

But we are not powerless. If we really love our land, if we can love ourselves enough to stop blaming the victims and start blaming the perpetrators, it’s just a matter of finding the right person to shoot.


22 March 2010

County Threatens to Cut Recycling

Chestertown Spy: County Cuts Curbside Recycling

Dear readers,

When you read the above news item, please also read the commentary. I would like to attempt to dispel some of the preconceived notions regarding recycling that the general public seems to hold. I feel that as the Recycling Coordinator for a 2000 person community I can speak with some accuracy in regards to the larger issue of the surrounding Kent County community.

First of all, recycling is an expensive proposition. As Ford Schuman states in the commentary (and he is one of the few other people who can speak accurately about recycling, being the head of a recycling company himself), “It has always been a misconception that recycling pays for itself. Recycling easily costs less than landfilling. Even if you have to pay $20/ton to ship a load to a manufacturer that accepts it free, you’re well below the trash tipping fee of $55/ton, not counting shipping. Plus you don’t have to safeguard the recycling for perpetuity and more jobs are created.”

Recycling does not pay for itself. Recycling will never pay for itself so long as raw materials are cheap and largely subsidized. Consider the plastic bottle. Plastic bottles are made of PETROLEUM, ie OIL, and we all know oil is in short supply. However, it is so heavily subsidized by the federal government that the price is unnaturally low. This allows beverage companies to use it copiously to produce plastic bottles for your consumption. You are not paying the price to them. They are not paying the price of extracting the oil, particularly from conflict areas. The federal government (and our soldiers abroad) are paying for this with YOUR tax dollars.

After you’ve used a plastic bottle, if it gets recycled, it is then somehow the county government’s responsibility to figure out what to do with it. They need to put out the money to collect it, and, because people are insufferably lazy, in Kent County they have chosen to do this via curbside collection to make it as easy as possible. We have gone a step farther at Washington College, because our community was too lazy even to be bothered with curbside. Instead, we installed 230 fairly expensive bins directly in hallways on campus and employ 10 students to empty them on a weekly basis, and still, STILL, we are not capturing all of the recycling that goes through this campus. An enormous amount of it goes into the trash, because apparently it is too “inconvenient” to walk ten feet down the hall to the recycling bin.

The fact that the county has been successful with curbside is a stellar recommendation for their efforts and commitment. But let’s talk costs for a minute. Here on campus, we have spent thousands of dollars on installing recycling bins (one sturdy bin that is able to hold up to the beatings students regularly give them is approximately $120- just as an aside, this is comparably cheap when placed next to your average public trash can). We annually (or rather, the federal work study program) pay about $25,000 for student work. And then there’s me, the only “full” time staff person dedicated to recycling, and considering I am technically only paid half of my salary to do recycling, but spend more like 80% of my time on it, the college is getting a pretty good deal. It’s expensive. And, to top it off, we aren’t paying for containers, or hauling. The county is (thanks, guys).

The point is, we as a society expect to pay to have our trash removed. We somehow expect recycling, because it is associated with the environmental movement, to pay for itself. Newsflash: it doesn’t. It never will, unless oil subsidies vanish and the real cost of raw materials reveals itself (I’m hoping for that option, personally). Recycling is not, and never will be, saving the environment. It is diverting a few types of waste away from landfills and converting them (through an extremely energy intensive and expensive process) into other materials. If we were really concerned about the environment, we wouldn’t be producing the recyclables in the first place, we’d be concentrating on zero waste and reusables. We’d be holding companies responsible for the products they are creating, so that the cost of dealing with a beverage container was put back on the creator (and the purchaser), NOT the tax-paying public and the municipalities.

But that, of course, would be inconvenient.

In closing, if the county is truly shutting down the recycling program because they are disappointed it’s not more of a money generator, I would really like to see the figures on how much they put out annually for trash removal and tipping fees. If these costs are covered by the towns (as I believe they are), then I move that it should be the responsibility of the towns to pay for recycling as they also pay for trash removal. And if people are not willing to pay more to live in town and have someone come to their doorstep to pick up their waste, they need not to create so much waste in the first place.

I invite anyone who complains about the expense of recycling to spend a day collecting and transporting recyclables from the public. After seeing the inordinate amount of materials people waste in the space of a single week, please feel free to come back to me and complain again about the expenses. All we, the recycling collectors of the world, are trying to do is manage YOUR waste in the most efficient way possible.

Believe me, it’s not a job that receives a lot of thanks.


17 March 2010

Toxic Chickens, Anyone?

Chestertown Spy: MD Farms Putting Arsenic in Chickens
Washington Post: A Deadly Ingredient in a Chicken Dinner

This is a hot topic in the area right now, as we are in the middle of the chicken belt and Perdue's national headquarters are smack in the middle of Maryland's Eastern Shore (which is almost entirely rural, and dedicated almost entirely to raising chickens and grain for chickens- both of which are sorely contested as one of the main causes of the failing health of the Chesapeake Bay).

There have long been reports of arsenic in the drinking water on the lower shore, especially around chicken houses, and many children have tested positive for highly dangerous levels of arsenic in their systems.

This is the bit that got me going though:
"“It’s inhumane to withhold effective … treatment from sick animals,” Krushinskie said, comparing it to withholding antibiotics from a sick child."

Let's be clear that this is referring to giving arsenic based medication to chickens who are raised in chicken houses, to keep alive long enough to get to slaughter, because of the filthy conditions they live in- which are already about as inhumane as you can get.

Delegates against the ban actually argued that there is no problem with arsenic because it is natural and organic, citing its presence on the periodic table of elements as a basis for their argument. And of course, if the FDA says its ok, it must be.

Perdue claims to have stopped using it for their chickens but really have been using it off and on again, based on how much pressure they are getting from the companies they sell to (such as McDonald's). None of this is particularly surprising though, especially as Jim Perdue, CEO of Perdue, was recently awarded a prestigious award by the governor of our state: http://www.perdue.com/company/news/press_releases/press_release_detail.html?id=1224

Perdue cites their commitment to stewardship, sustainability, and family farming as the reasons for the success of their company- though they are well known around here for submitting their farmers to surveillance, harassment, and threat tactics to keep them from saying anything bad about the company, and several Perdue "family farms" have recently been sued for the MASSIVE amount of nutrient run off from their farms- including record levels of E. Coli, which run off straight into the Chesapeake Bay.

Just another example of how government officials are in the pocket of major corporations (did you catch O’Malley say he frequently turns to Jim Perdue for advice???), how corporations are able to get away with murder and yet still receive recognition as pillars of the community (AS IF), and how we are all in really, really deep trouble.