It’s the Little Things…

I spend a lot of time mulling over blog posts, that eventually get forgotten, stuck in the “draft posts” folder, accumulating dust and never seeing the light of day. But the beauty of a blog is that it can be anything: off-the-cuff musings and/or fully researched articles. I like a healthy combination of both and so, I have a new tactic: just write and publish the darned post, as it happens, even if the finished product isn’t perfect and beautiful.

That brings us to the point of this post. I find inspiration for this blog in the things others may find mundane or may typically overlook as something of a non-issue. Examples include:

  •  Food retail outlets using way too much plastic packaging (drives me absolutely mental while some may not even see the plastic as a problematic);
  • Coffee shops serving beverages in takeaway cups despite customers then sitting in the shop (what an absolute waste of resources!); and
  •  Recently, hotels and the way they accessorize their rooms.

It’s this last bullet I’d like to highlight. This past week, I’ve been traveling around BC with my better half, and we’ve stayed in a myriad of hotels, motels, and something called a “boutique hotel” (is “boutique” the new “in” word?). Given that we are both into the whole #plasticsux thing, we usually base our opinion of a place in part on what products the hotel leaves for guests. “What are they equipping the in-room coffee tray with?” and “What toiletries are provided in the bathroom?” are usually the first things we’re wondering as we step into the room.

Context: lately, I’ve become totally jaded by hotels that appear lovely on the surface, but then litter their rooms with plastic crap. I imagine a place that has nice beds, towels, and an excellent shower to also follow through on the little things but as it turns out, this is not always the case! Last summer, we checked in at The Best Western in Fernie, and were impressed with its outward appearance, but totally let down by the sheer amount of packaged stuff in the rooms. It made me want to vomit. 😡


So when you land in a space, do a walk around the room and find no plastic, it’s like the stars have aligned. This week, that happened at every single hotel (and so far, we’re up to 5, so that’s saying something!). The coolest part about this is that 4 out of the 5 places have been little motels, no chain affiliation, in the middle of nowhere.

Funky accommodations in Revelstoke!
Which begs the question: if a small, one-off place is able to provide ceramic coffee mugs and actual glass water glasses, and paper-wrapped soap without any of the other unnecessary plastic tubes of bad shampoo, why is it that a mammoth corporation like Best Western, is offering lame styrofoam cups and plastic-wrapped plastic cups (I still haven’t figured out what the f*ck is up with that) and passing it off as cost-saving measures?! Surely they don’t need to cut costs, what with the amount of traffic they see and their clientele.

Authenticity is ceramic and glass. ❤️
So to the small-town motels, still offering these little reminders that we are capable of drinking coffee out of a real mug without breaking it, I thank you. It is these little things that give me hope, and that make me want to come back, if only for the chance at holding on to a piece of something authentic.

And, if you find yourself in BC looking for a quiet, authentic place to rest your weary, adventure-filled body, here are some recommendations! 😉

My Kind of Politics

Happy 2017 blogosphere! I’m back, I have a lot of thoughts about a lot of things, but in the interest of staying more committed to regularly updating this blog, I’ll keep this post sweet and simple.

I am not going to talk about the politics currently engulfing everyone’s news feeds and social media channels right now. We don’t need more of that and in fact I’d argue that we probably need less. Which is why, immediately following the posting of this little shpeal, I am putting on my hiking boots and going outside. It may be winter here in BC (oh right, small update readers: I moved to Canada and funnily enough, it had nothing to do with politics!) but the sun is shining and the bad news takes a backseat to Vitamin D absorption. 🙂

The politics I will discuss here are the kind I can’t get enough of: plastic pollution legislation. It makes me so happy to witness communities transform to protect their surroundings, to become more innovative, and to make positive changes even if the logistical challenges are very real and seemingly insurmountable. A few years ago while still living in Maine, I was involved with a local effort to place a fee on plastic bags and ban expanded polystyrene foam food packaging (read: dreaded styrofoam) and after a lot of hard work and testimonial, we won. Portland, Maine now charges 5-cents for each plastic bag used at retail locations and the first time I saw a sign alerting customers to that change, I almost started cheering in the supermarket.

So to read this morning that there is legislation being brought forward to BAN OUTRIGHT all polystyrene food packaging for the entire state of Maine gave me hope. It was a nice realization that while there is a lot of crazy sh*t going on in the world right now, there’s also a lot of really awesome sh*t and now more than ever, we need to be talking about all that awesomeness. Kudos to Maine for taking this on, I am so excited to see it progress!!

A Colossal Dissection

Science is awesome. If you need some proof, or just want something to break up your morning, check out the video footage below of a Colossal Squid dissection. Why is this so cool?! Let’s count the ways…

  1. Generally speaking, dissections of marine organisms are pretty neat: they allow scientists to observe an organism close-up and get to know its inner workings. How does the organism take in food and digest it? What does it use to propel itself? How does it respire, what’s going on with the brain, where are its teeth? So many questions!
  2. This particular squid was accidentally caught on a fishing line meantforPatagonianToothfish (aka Chilean Sea Bass!), and was brought to the surface fully intact. Yes, it’s unfortunate that such a behemoth of a creature was snagged on a fishing line, but one of the beautiful things about science is that this event was turned into an amazing research opportunity.

    Patagonian Toothfish
    Patagonian Toothfish
  3. It’s a COLOSSAL SQUID. Only two specimens have ever been collected in one piece. Scientists know next to nothing about it, except that it’s huge (39 – 46ft long, wicked heavy) and lives in the cold, polar waters of the Southern Ocean.

But don’t take my word for it…see for yourself!

Notable moments:

  • 02:10:22 – Dr. Kat Bolstad, after much trial and tribulation, pulls out the squid beak. The thing is just a little smaller than a soccer ball. YOWZAH.|
  • 02:25:40 – Jesse Kelly talking about a smaller relative to the Colossal Squid (the New Zealand Arrow Squid) – these are eaten by diving birds, marine mammals and yes…humans!
  • 02:47:30 – The dissection team moves the squid around in the tub. It took 5 people to do this. O.o
  • 03:16:15 – With the entire team in the tank, Dr. Kat Bolstad explains how massive this squid actually is.

Get Involved: The Science of Marine Debris

Readers! I have exciting news. The organization I work for, COSEE-OS (or, Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence – Ocean Systems) is hosting a webinar series at the end of this month. Guess what we’re talking about?

Yes, that’s right: marine debris!! Here are two reasons why you might consider signing up:

  • This webinar will feature three prominent research scientists doing work in this field right now – they’re looking at the microscopic life making a home on marine microplastics. They’re using computer models to predict trajectories of debris in the ocean and they’re telling stories about debris jettisoned out to see after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) in Japan.
  • Marine debris vs. plastic pollution: this is the constant debate. Which term is “right”? As it turns out, both are…but don’t let me try to convince you. Join in the webinar fun and find out for yourselves.

In short, this is your chance to hear from the scientists themselves about this issue and what marine debris is doing to our oceans.

Click here to read all about it and sign up! Hope to “see” you there. 🙂

Marine Debris Webinar Announcement

The Universe Is a Funny Thing

I started this blog after realizing that what I was really interested in was learning more about plastic pollution, and sharing that knowledge with whoever wanted to read it.

The reason I got interested in plastic pollution was because I decided to give up a summer in between sophomore and junior year to take part in an 8-week program devoted to studies in oceanography, nautical science, and maritime history. We were 27 students from across the country coming together to learn more about the ocean. We all became friends in those 8 weeks, which I guess happens when you’re all packed into a 130′ ship for a month!

So it wasn’t just the plastic at sea that got me thinking more about our waste. It was that my other 26 classmates also got upset and annoyed by the floating debris. We were all disgusted after finding plastic lodged in the throat of a mahi mahi. These friendships and this shared experience was all part of the catalyst.

These days, I don’t blog as much, for one reason or another. I have posts queued up, then forget. Sometimes, I lose track of why I’m even bothering. Usually though, there’s this moment of “OH, RIGHT!” when I remember why I started it in the first place. That trip, those people, that experience.

That moment happened again today, but under surreal and tragic circumstances. One of my fellow S-218ers was killed last night as she crossed a street in Southern California. A drunk driver was the reason. Random, so all-of-a-sudden, so confusing. As I’ve been trying to work this out, one idea has remained constant: impermanence. Despite our every intention, we are only here for so long and sometimes, something awful happens and we’re here for even less time. So for all those times we say, “I’ll blog later” or “Eh, I’ll call that friend this weekend when I have more time”…why not do it now? What’s stopping us from doing the things we want to do, right now?

In yoga (and as it turns out, in life too) we talk about the “now” a lot. Be here, be present, now. This incident, while tragic and totally not fair, was a reminder to stay in this moment and to not look too far into the future. If I want to post something on here, I do it now. No more waiting. Why wait?

Garbage, Garbage, Garbage

Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger

I’ll be honest and admit that before today, I didn’t know who Pete Seeger was*. Sure, I’d probably heard his tunes in the background of various TV shows (Weeds, anyone?) but I never knew that he was so forward thinking and all about big issues like women’s rights, civil rights, and…yep, environmental stewardship. Folk singers, they’re the coolest. I’m only sad that I came around to him too late. Bummer…

So why mention him on a blog devoted to all things plastic pollution? Well this harkens back to my Bill Nye post about garbage and realizing yet again that people have been talking about this issue for a long time. In 1996, Seeger released a song entitled “Garbage” and there’s a verse in it that goes like this:

In Mister Thompson’s factory, they’re making plastic Christmas trees
Complete with silver tinsel and a geodesic stand
The plastic’s mixed in giant vats from some conglomeration
That’s been piped from deep within the earth or strip-mined from the land.
And if you question anything, they say, “Why, don’t you see?
It’s absolutely needed for the economy,”
(source: Lyrics On Demand)

Hearing this song was like a shock to my brain: plastic pollution, pollution in general is such a critical issue! When it comes to pollution, I think people often get bogged down in the details and the nitty-gritty of “Well, this issue is too big and there are too many moving parts so why bother?”

Why bother? Because it keeps happening. People are still writing songs about garbage. Haven’t we learned yet? We tend to write off plastic pollution in favor of larger, “hot topics” like oil exploitation and climate change but the reality is that all of them are connected. We suck petroleum products from the ground, turn them into single-use items and plastic Christmas trees because “it’s absolutely needed for the economy” and in the process pollute our homes, our air, and our water.

I like that these songs exist, because they reinvigorate my excitement about this issue and are good tools to help raise awareness but it would be so awesome if the idea of “garbage” as the focal point for a song became a true thing of the past.

*Many thanks to my Mom for pointing me in the direction of this cool cat! 🙂

Ban the Foam, Maine Edition

What happens when you eat ice cream too late in the evening? Well…blogging happens. This post is just shy of a month overdue, so I guess it was high-time for a sugar-fueled session. Here we go…

Recently, I joined up with the Surfrider Foundation, but more specifically, the Maine Chapter. Surfrider has many campaigns aimed at protecting one of nature’s best playgrounds (the ocean) but the one I most closely identify with is their Rise Above Plastics (RAP) campaign. It’s through this that a lot of bag bans and ordinances surrounding legislation targeted at reducing single-use plastics happen. For anyone who follows these bans across the country, you might recall seeing blips from the state of Maine, as we attempt to ban EPS. What’s EPS? In simple terms: Expanded Polystyrene. The ban that the city of Portland, Maine is considering taking up aims to ban only EPS foam food packaging. Remember that time you got Thai takeout and it came swaddled in squeaky white clam shells? Yeah, that stuff. It’s an ugly pice of litter, it gets into our oceans and wrecks havoc on the marine environment. For those that read my “Photo Seen Round the World” post, you might have noticed a small piece of styrofoam amongst all the contents on that tray…even on Midway Atoll, we find EPS. Problem? You betcha.

And so it was that on September 16, the City Council of Portland, Maine heard public comment on this proposed ordinance. I, along with fellow Surfrider members, attended the meeting to lend our voice in favor of the ban. This was my first foray into the world of politics and public hearings and what I found that evening sort of surprised me. I was told two things before the meeting: 1) there would be lots of lobbyists there, doing a lot of pandering and 2) despite that, most of the council seemed to be in favor of the ban and it was probably going to pass.

Thinking that this was going to be a cake walk, I crafted my 3-minute public statement to the council with Midway on my mind. I talked about how EPS is an outdated packaging material and that recycling it is a futile effort. I shared my Midway story and told the Council members about the albatross being affected by our trash in the middle of nowhere. It was a very nice bit of writing…but it didn’t really resonate with any of the council members. Maybe I spoke too soon, allowing too many lobbyists to speak after me, but mostly, I think what spoke very loudly that night were two things: money and economics.

Herein lies the lesson, and the rub. First, the rub: I am, first and foremost, all about the environment. This is the reason I joined up with Surfrider in the first place and what I focus on in my anti-plastic pollution advocacy. However, there is a large percentage of the population that does not think this way, and this is what I learned that night at the hearing. People want to know how things will affect them, their business, and the economy…back to money and economics. The message driven home, loud and clear, was that if you really want to get a council-member’s attention, you have to mention those things. Of course, we don’t need to all turn into smooth-talking lobbyists, no, no, no…but we have to get on the level.

Something I heard repeatedly that night from the lobbyists and small business representatives in the room was that switching from EPS to alternative packaging would be too expensive. And yet, only one person who testified in favor of the ban gave any evidence that alternative, cost-effective packaging even existed. This is the problem! The small businesses who oppose this ban don’t want it to happen because they maybe aren’t aware of the alternatives, and have been told by industry lobbyists that switching would be disastrous for business. We can talk about the impacts of EPS on the environment until we’re blue in the face, but until we give this group actual alternatives and hard numbers as evidence, we might as well be shouting into the breeze.

Lobbyists are really good at convincing pretty much anyone that their product is just fine and all we need are more recycling programs. They are smooth talkers and when they outnumber those in favor of any legislation that would ban their product, their voice is suddenly the loudest and most heard. What happens then is that a group of council members who are no longer sure an EPS ban is what the City of Portland needs sends the legislation back to committee for further review…at least, this was the case in Portland, that night.

So as advocates of a plastic-free lifestyle, what do we do? We all care about the environment and the well-being of ourselves and future generations and we shouldn’t have to sacrifice that message. What if we crafted our messages in a way that addressed all of these things? After the hearing last month, it became clear to me that as advocates, we can do a better job. It’s not enough to give a statement to the city council on why we think a ban is necessary. We need to be talking to those opposed and figure out how to solve these issues. Only when we take that next step can change really happen.

Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter