Break Out the Red, White & Blue (Tablecloths)

Break Out the Red, White & Blue (Tablecloths)

During the snow days, we were probably dreaming about summertime. And finally, Memorial Day – first official day of summer – is almost here. No matter how you observe Memorial Day – marching in a parade, visiting cemeteries or memorials – there’s bound to be a picnic or cookout somewhere along the way.

Here are a few things to consider as you prepare for the holiday …

The picnic is not a new concept. According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the word “picnic” occurred in 1826. Picnics even precede Decoration Day (the precursor to Memorial Day), declared in 1868. But the plastic items that we use for eating outside – and sometimes inside – are a fairly new invention. One might say plastic came late to the picnic. Early picnic baskets were filled with glassware, metal or crockery dishes and metal cutlery. According to the Superior Plastics Company, plastics came into wide use in homes after World War II and by the 1960s had replaced many materials in the kitchen. Manufacturers soon began making plastic spoons, forks, and knives that were meant to be thrown away after one use, eliminating the need to use water, electricity, and manpower to wash them. (According to Superior Plastics, this was a plus).

Then in 1970, along came the “spork,” patented by a Massachusetts company and made famous by Kentucky Fried Chicken. (If you’ve never bought a bucket of KFC, the spork is half-spoon, half fork).

Today, we do have more choices for our picnics. Companies are producing edible cutlery that  comes in flavors, compostable cutlery made of material like bamboo, and even dinnerware made of fallen leaves. But why don’t we just go back to the old-fashioned ways, reducing our dependence on these plastics?

Washing up was good enough for picnickers until the middle of the 20th century when we decided it was easier to just throw things away. We were swept away by convenience, not thinking about where these things would end up and how they would affect our environment.

So before you pack your picnic basket or get ready for the barbecue, remember that not only are these plastics taking up space in landfills, the manufacturing process uses up valuable resources. This Greenpeace video from a few years ago tells “The Story of a Spoon.”

And make sure dish soap is on your shopping list.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother Nature’s Day

Many of us may think of Mother’s Day as one of those “Hallmark Holidays” designed to encourage shopping. However, the earliest efforts to establish a day to celebrate mothers started before Hallmark existed. Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but the U.S. Mother’s Day wasn’t established until 1914 when Woodrow Wilson issued a Presidential proclamation establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Of course, there’s our other Mother – Mother Nature. Her origins date even further back to Gaea, a goddess in Greek mythology who was seen as the embodiment of the Earth. As both a goddess and as Earth itself, Gaea features in many myths explaining the natural order of things.

Though how we view Mother Nature may have changed over the years, the basics idea is the same.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, Mother Nature is “nature personified as a woman considered as the source and guiding force of creation.”

Native American Elders describe her this way: “The Great Spirit is in all things. He is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us. That which we put into the ground she returns to us.”

But sometimes it seems like Mother Nature gets angry (like our own mothers may have done). Author Moisés Naím, a Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, wrote in a 2015 article in the Atlantic (just before the Climate Summit in Paris, “Human nature vs. Mother Nature. The Struggle for Our Time.” He continued by saying that it seemed like Mother Nature was trying to get our attention – with hard-to-miss signals.

It’s true that the Earth’s climate has changed all throughout history. But no matter what we believe is the cause, NASA reports that there is evidence today that most of the current warming trends are likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity.

Fortunately, Mother Nature is strong and in some cases is able to help herself – it’s sort of like she’s gotten tired of waiting for us. An article published in Nature Geoscience earlier this year reported that wetlands are natural water purifiers on a vast scale and can reduce nitrate concentration (caused by run-off from farming) better than any other method. In fact, some types of wetlands are so good at this filtration function that environmental managers construct similar artificial wetlands to treat storm water and wastewater.

But we can’t leave Mother Nature to totally fend for herself.

And there are ways to recognize Mother Nature and mothers in May. You can plant a tree (in memory or celebration of someone), take a hike, or take a walk in a local arboretum. A number of places around Atlanta have been designated as an arboretum, including Georgia Tech University, Agnes Scott College, and the Atlanta Beltline.

Or if your family or friends are runners, you can go plogging, a new craze that’s come to the U.S. from Sweden. Plogging is a play on the Swedish words for “pick up” put together with “jogging.” It’s becoming so popular in the U.S. that Keep American Beautiful has partnered with Lifesum, a health app that allows users to log, track, and estimate the number of calories burned while plogging.

Oh, yeah, and please leave the cut flowers off the list this year, unless they come out of your own garden.

It’s never too early to start educating your kids, or your friends’ kids, about sustainability. Studies have found a significant relationship between how young children learn about sustainability when parents and teachers are part of sustainability-related discussions and activities.

Recycling and other conservation activities are good habits to nurture at an early age. So, find out if your local schools recycle. In one school in Vermont a few years ago, a persistent mother or two children in the elementary school worked with school principals, facilities managers, and food service staff to reinvigorate recycling.

Take time to read to children and other members of your family. There are children’s books on many topics, everything from young people who are becoming environmental activists at an early age to conservation and environmental protection.

To bring us back to the other Mother’s Day …

In an article on, blogger Brooke Willson wrote about “10 Things Mother Nature Can Teach Us.” Reading through the list, it’s impossible not to see the similarities with qualities our own mothers probably tried to instill in us.

  1. Strength                                             6. Acceptance
  2. Perseverance                                    7. Balance
  3. Patience                                             8. Appreciation
  4. Optimism                                           9. Self-worth
  5. Respect                                             10. Happiness

(Ten Tree sells clothing and accessories and plants ten trees for every item sold).

Additional Information

  • More on the history of Mother’s Day
  • Here in the Atlanta area, Trees Atlanta has a lot to offer, including their Holiday Gift Program and they also tell you how to plant your own tree. They also partnered with WABE Atlanta Public Radio to planta tree in metro Atlanta for every pledge WABE receives on one specific day of their fundraising drive,
  • To find a designated Arboretum near you, you can search ArbNet
  • Farhana Borg, Mikael Winberg & Monika Vinterek (2017) “Children’s Learning for a Sustainable Society: Influences from Home and Preschool,” Education Inquiry, 8:2, 151-172, DOI: 10.1080/20004508.2017.1290915


Rootin’ for the Earth – Part 2

Rootin’ for the Earth - Part 2

We thought we might wrap up Earth Day 2018 with a few things that happened this year. Here’s a short list of what we’re reading …

The We Are Still In coalition – the 2,700 U.S. organizations who have come together to show the world that we stand by the Paris Climate Agreement and are committed to meeting its goals – launched ‘We Are Taking Action.” This venture is a multi-sector campaign to drive new and more ambitious climate action from non-federal actors across the country, ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September.

Waste Dive 360 wrote about “12 leading companies, nonprofits pay tribute to Earth Day 2018.”

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Northeast Recycling Council, reflecting on 50 years of environmental action reminded us of this 1970 broadcast from famous newsman Walter Cronkite.
  • Apple announced Daisy – a new disassembly robot that takes Apple products and harvests the metals from them, reducing the new for extracting new material.
  • Outdoors retailer The North Face partnered with The National Parks Foundation on a collection of t-shirts and tote bags made from recycled bottles collected from three national parks. $1 from each sale will be donated back to the foundation, and the program has already collected over 160,000 pounds of bottles from Yosemite National Park alone.

According to CityLab, volunteers helped the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP) stuff mesh bags with oyster shells, which they collect from restaurants around the state. The bags are then submerged into tanks, where staff members will introduce oyster larvae. The larvae attach themselves to the shells and grow into spat and eventually full-sized oysters, with shells of their own.

“Because an oyster shell has two valves, and 10 to 15 larvae typically attach themselves to each valve, “that means we return 20 to 30 oysters to the Bay for every oyster that we get,” program director Todd Jane ski said.

On the local front, The Saporta Report had a guest column by Sally Bethea, board president of Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy: An Earth Day reflection: America’s National Park System

We hope you enjoyed these highlights. We like sharing what we discover with you so be looking for more “What We’re Reading Now” columns

Rootin’ for the Earth

Rootin’ for the Earth

Earth Day 2018: End Plastic Pollution

Editor’s Note: We thought you might appreciate a different perspective on Earth Day this year. So we asked Sugarfoot, our new M-PASS contributor, to share her thoughts about the importance of Earth Day 2018.

Hi, I’m Sugarfoot.

I’m pleased to root up information and share my views for the team at M-PASS, weighing in today on Earth Day and what people are doing to our environment. My qualifications for the job? Well, after all, animals also have a stake in the future of the planet and it seems more often than not nobody much listens to us.

Yes, the photo is right. I’m a pig – a female Juliana pig – also known as the Miniature Painted Pig – a breed that probably originated in Europe. As a strong-willed female I’m proud to be from Jefferson, Georgia, where I was born in October of 2017. I’m very different from the pigs you see on traditional farms – I like to hang out with people, I appreciate creature comforts, and I don’t have to work hard or worry about the heat or the cold. And while my breed has a different lifestyle from other pigs, we all share similar interests and concerns about our changing environment.

You might be asking why a pig for this job? Sir Winston Churchill said it better than I ever could:

“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
–Sir Winston Churchill (he loved pigs)

Since I’m going to be joining the MP team around M-PASS for a while, I want to let you in on a few pig facts:

  • Pigs aren’t dirty animals. We’re actually quite clean but have the dirty reputation because we like to roll around in mud to cool off. Since I live in a cool, covered home, I stay very clean (though I have to admit, rolling around in the mud looks like fun).
  • Pigs are among the smartest of all domesticated animals. Tests show that some of us are smarter than dogs and some of us show an IQ close to that of a three-year-old child.
  • Pigs are good communicators and are very social and peaceful animals.
  • While we have poor eyesight we have a great sense of smell. Our snouts were made to search – or root – for food, which connects us directly to the earth.

I am qualified to talk about Earth Day because pigs, like many animals, contribute to the sustainability of our environment, though we rarely get much credit for it. Like people, we depend on good air, water, soil, along with the additional components that make up our delicate balance of life.

Pigs play an important role in managing ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity. When we root around, we’re constantly stirring up the soil, creating areas for new plant colonization and spreading plants by dispersing seeds as we go along. The environment is gravely important to us: according to Dr. Alex Stolba at The Humane Farming Association, pigs living in a natural environment spend 31% of the day grazing and 21% of the day rooting and 23% of the day interacting with the environment in other ways. So what may look like playing around and randomly digging is us really working.

Okay, that’s enough about me and pigs. Got to stay on topic … Earth Day 2018.

I would imagine that it’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t heard of Earth Day in the 48 years since it began. Today, Earth Day has become an annual global event with a reported more than one billion participants in 192 countries. (So far, pigs aren’t included in this count; but with this gig I have with M-PASS, maybe someday we’ll all be counted).

Earth Day Beginnings:
While everyone’s probably heard of Earth Day, I wanted to do some research so I could tell you how it all got started.

Believe it or not, it started with a politician. Gaylord Nelson, then Senator from Wisconsin, is widely credited with the concept of a day to celebrate the Earth and reflect on the effect people’s actions have on our planet. According to the Earth Day Network, Nelson was inspired after seeing the effects of a massive 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. His aim was to combine the energy of growing student activism with the increasing public consciousness about air and water pollution into a wave of support for the environment.

In fact, the public consciousness had been increasing since the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring. Carson’s writing raised awareness about the threats to our planet’s living things (she included animals), and the environment. Her work showed distinct links between pollution and health. (How Silent Spring Ignited the Environmental Movement, the New York Times, September 21, 1992).

On April 22, 1970, over twenty million Americans participated in massive coast-to-coast rallies demonstrating for a healthy and sustainable environment. The large numbers who turned out helped put environmental protection on the national political agenda.

That first Earth Day achieved a rare alignment, with people coming together from all ideals and walks of life. (Now, why can’t you people do this more often?). Supporters from both the Republican and Democratic Parties joined in the effort, along with diverse economic groups, city folks and farmers, business owners and labor leaders. By the end of that year, this unified action had energized efforts to establish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Earth Day has continued to grow, going global in 1990, and mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries. That year put environmental issues onto the world stage and gave a huge boost to worldwide recycling efforts.

Earth Day 2018
Earth Day continues to address the most pressing environmental issues with the 2018 theme “End Plastic Pollution.” This year’s focus is on mobilizing the world to end plastic pollution and “… is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change human attitude and behavior about plastics.”

The timing this year couldn’t be better. We are in a period of exponential growth of plastics usage and waste and that growth is a threat to the health – and survival – of our planet. Th Effects of this growth have intensified over the last few years as it has become harder to find ways to recycle plastic waste. For example, when China started enforcing new regulations on the import of recyclable materials, they left recycling companies around the world scrambling for alternatives. (“China’s ‘Green Fence’ is having a dramatic economic impact on the plastics recycling market,” M-PASS, August 18, 2017; “Blue Sky 2018: China Continues to Impact the World,” M-PASS, April 5, 2018).

We’re starting to see more images in the news of “islands” of floating plastic materials, scuba divers having to dodge plastic bottles as they dive, and mountains of plastic bottles – making us more aware of the problem. (While we pigs will eat a lot of things, we’re not known for eating plastic, so we can’t help with this).

Earth Day 2018 comes at a time when increasing numbers of individuals and companies are starting to pay attention to the issue. And not only paying attention – they are all looking for innovative ways to decrease the amount of traditional plastics we use. Imagine how the huge numbers of Earth Day participants will further spread this awareness around the world.

I am excited to join M-PASS to help create awareness from the animal population – you’ll be hearing more from us.

On behalf of animals (and people) everywhere, here are a few ways you can become part of the movement. It’s not that hard to make a difference.

  • Calculate your plastic consumption with the Earth Day plastic calculator.
  • Continue to decrease the amount of single-use plastics you use: for example, take your own bag to the grocery, reduce your amount of bottled water.
  • Continue to improve your recycling habits, including paper, glass and electronics – it’s not just about plastic.
  • Join an event this weekend with your family, your pets, and others you care about. These events can be fun as well as educational.
  • Learn more about the Earth Day Network (EDN) and read about some of their successful initiatives here. EDN continues to lead and grow this movement while also providing educational programs in schools, reforestation and more.

While most of the events are probably mostly for people (and dogs – they get to go everywhere), here are a few articles that include all us animals.

Blue Sky 2018 – China Continues to Impact the World

Blue Sky 2018 - China Continues to Impact the World

In August, we talked about China’s changing import regulations on recyclable materials. That was just the beginning of a major adjustment in how the world has to deal with this issue in the future. Chinese authorities, increasingly concerned over the growing amount of contaminated recyclable materials entering their country, launched aggressive enforcement of existing regulations on inspections in 2013.
(“China’s ‘Green Fence’ is having a dramatic economic impact on the plastics recycling market,” M-PASS, August 18, 2017).

Things continue to evolve. “Blue Sky 2018,” is the latest enforcement campaign announced by China’s General Administration of Customs. (Just keeping it interesting – the name “Blue Sky 2018” follows “The Green Fence” and “The National Sword,” changing as the intensity of the effort grows).


This newest action, running from March through December of this year, means full enforcement of earlier measures to ban 24 types of waste, including plastic and mixed papers. It goes further, setting a much higher standard for contamination levels. In addition, Chinese authorities are cracking down on false import documents. According to authorities, smugglers have been circumventing import regulations by illegally using another company’s import license. By November of 2017, these crackdowns had resulted in the arrest of “… 39 suspects and the seizure of 33,000 tonnes of plastic and mineral waste.” (SOURCE: South China Morning Post)

These changes have left Western countries scrambling to deal with a buildup of plastic and paper garbage while looking for new markets. Interestingly, the regulations are also having effects in Asia, as port cities like Hong Kong are seeing tons of rubbish pile up.

Hong Kong, partially autonomous because of the “one country, two systems” legal framework established when the city reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, functions as China’s import-export hub. Virtually all recycling imports from the West pass through its already overstretched port complex, the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals. (SOURCE: “China’s recycling import crackdown sparks Hong Kong pile-ups,” Engineering & Technology, Nov., 2017).

Hong Kong also produces its own large amounts of cardboard and paper, much of which is normally sent across the border to the mainland for recycling. Officials there fear that the area is far too small and densely populated to be able to properly process even all of its own recyclable waste. And since China refuses to take it, the pileups will leave them surrounded by garbage.

As Waste Dive 360’s Cole Rosengren wrote in a recent article:

“In the eight months since China announced import restrictions, the industry’s talking points
have essentially followed the five stages of grief. Most people now appear to be entering the
acceptance phase. Containers are getting rejected, import licenses are down and the new 0.5%
contamination standards are in effect as of this month. Figuring out what went wrong and
what comes next is now the top priority.”

There are no great short-term answers. Quick fixes include sending more recyclable materials to landfills, easing municipality recycling requirements, increasing taxes, and possible higher costs for haulers. Some recyclers are looking to export to other countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, but even together these places can’t fill the void left by China. None of these are long-term solutions.

“This is not a little disruption,” says Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute,
a research organization based in Southern California. “This is a big disruption to a bigger industry
than most people would think it is, because it’s sort of an invisible process. You put your stuf
out at the curb, and it goes away — nobody thinks about it as being a multi-billion industry in this country.”

(“Mountains of US recycling pile up as China restricts imports,” PRI, January 2018)

There is some good news. Challenges often provide the opportunity to increase knowledge, growth and effect change. Increasing consumer awareness, even in our daily activities, is an initial step.

  • The milkman is making a return, partly due to a renewed interest in using glass bottles instead of plastic.
  • The EU announced plans to make all plastic packaging across Europe recyclable or reusable by 2030.
  • British Prime Minister Teresa May called for more stringent rules on the use of plastics, particularly in supermarkets.
  • Recently, the Amsterdam branch of the Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza opened the world’s first plastic-free aisle, offering more than 700 products with no plastic wrapping. There are plans for a national roll out.
  • And to come full circle, Roy Tech Environ (a Chinese-owned company) is opening a plastics-recycling facility in Grant, Alabama. With regulations tightening, increasing the difficulty to ship unprocessed plastic scrap into China, the company decided to open a processing plant in the U.S. to ensure that its operations in Asia have enough material to meet their needs. (SOURCES: Recycling Today; WHNT News)

Hopefully, by now you are thinking: So what can I do?

Here are three pretty simple things that we can all do right now:

  • Rob Schmitz/NPR

    Decline plastic straws offered by servers at restaurants. There is a growing anti-straw activist movement amid talk of edible straws and return of the paper straw. The #stopsucking movement is not new, but it got a boost recently from Queen Elizabeth. She “stopped sucking,” according to one roguish headline, after seeing part of a film series presented by her friend David Attenborough. Greatly impacted by the scenes of plastic bottles and bags clogging oceans and killing marine life, she banned plastic straws and plastic materials from the royal estates.

  • Stop “wishful recycling” (We probably all practice this every once in a while when we just throw it in the bin, not 100% sure it can be recycled). I find myself thinking twice now when I approach my recycling container.
  • Make sure you take your own bags to the supermarket.

“Blue Sky 2018” has had a large effect on economies and jobs around the world as prices for recyclable materials have decreased with demand. It even affects the income of Hong Kong’s scrap and garbage pickers (often referred to as “cardboard grannies”), who make a living going shop to shop collecting scrap materials to recyclers.

But while we may be facing short-term economic losses, in the long-run, we can increase – and develop new – and sustainable practices.

If you want to know more ….

More reading on China and the continuing outcome of their actions:
There is a wealth of information and reporting on the China policies and their effects on the world and there are new stories every few days. We will keep you updated on any significant changes or responses. In in the meantime — If you want to read more about it …