Freaking Out Over Mason Jar Coffee

You wouldn’t know it from this blog, but I’ve been living in Maine for almost three years now and have done a surprisingly poor job at publicizing my exploits across the state. I wait to post something, then forget, then think it’s too late to do anything about it and a year goes by. Oy!

So here’s something: almost every morning, I drive through the odd little village of Wiscasset and stop at my favorite, favorite place to get coffee: Treats. It is truly heaven on earth. Croissants, coffee, and a killer view to boot!! How can you lose, really? Go if you haven’t been, return if it’s been a while. 😊 

Wiscasset, ME
 Up until very recently, I carted my trusty Klean Kanteen around with me for coffee pit stops but that’s taken a backseat while I reacquaint myself with my freaking Mason Jar set up. By “freaking” I mean “Freaker” and by “Freaker” I mean “modified awesome sock.” (Or #awesomesock for all you #hashtaggers out there). Because I have a tendency to mutter “Good Grief” one too many times, it seems only fitting that my coffee stay snuggled in Charlie Brown attire. 
Good grief! Is that enough coffee?!
 Why am I telling you this? As I get back into my favorite topic, railing against single-use plastics (looking at you, #6 plastic coffee cup lid!), I also want to talk about funky alternatives! A jar and a sock are a pretty weird combination (let’s just admit it) but a) they work and b) all the people in whatever coffee shop you visit will remark upon how fun your #awesomesock is. 

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 PlasticsΒ (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

One Year

Hi readers,

While I have some fun updates and posts in the works (among others: banningΒ expanded polystyrene foam food packaging in Portland, Maine, say what?!) I have to take a second, step back and realize that holy cow…it’s been a year. A year since, um…what?

Today, September 27, marks the day I left Midway Atoll, ending my 4 month stay on that incredible set of islands. I hit a turning point there, where I truly came to realize what it means to have an impact on something. My volunteer experience only cemented in my mind the idea that this is what I to do: see the problem, figure out how it’s happening, then tell the world. OK, so maybe I haven’t gotten to world-status yet, but I’m working on it. πŸ˜‰

In any case, while today marks a bittersweet day, Maine is pulling out all the stops to ensure that I don’t forget that it’s these New England states I missed so much last year, while in the Pacific. Here’s to more fun adventures! πŸ™‚

Morning sunlight captured in fall foliage.
Morning sunlight captured in fall foliage.

Lessons Learned

OK, readers, I’m back to it. That plastic thing: walking, talking, doing the plastic-free lifestyle. There have been some bumps in the road and a few detours in the past few months but no worries! Here we are, mid-August and things are great. So let’s dive in!

Let’s talk about teaching. No, let’s not talk about teaching. How about communicating? Yeah, let’s go with that. Communicating plastic pollution to an audience. Up until a few months ago, I thought I pretty much had it nailed: figure out your audience, tailor your presentation, and boom! Done. Well, I had an experience back in April that completely changed my thought process about how we communicate and talk about this huge, massive issue of plastic.

The audience: preschoolers. The ones who can’t quite read and aren’t totally sure where Hawaii is on a map. The ones that will be so totally focused for a solid five minutes and then, all of a sudden, will literally run into another room, on to the next adventure.Β After spending just an hour with a small group of these little kiddos, I learned a few things:

Introducing the kiddos to plastic pollution!
Introducing the kiddos to plastic pollution!

1) I have the utmost respect for anyone who, as their career, works with this age group. OK, ifΒ we’re being honest here, I have miles of respect for any and ALL teachers…you are truly amazing.

2) The name of the game is quick! Fast! Go, go, go! These kids love doing things, offering suggestions, looking at pictures. They don’t like to be talked at. They love being engaged and included and feeling like they’re offering something useful. In this respect, plastic pollution actually ends up being kind of fun to talk about, because they absolutely love looking at photos and talking about “trash” (their word of choice for plastic pollution).

Where am I going with all of this? This was a very cool learning experience for me, and I think it’s one that more of us could use. Interacting with and teaching a group of small children is both a frustrating and completely humbling experience. It makes you realize that, “Oh wait, this is the next generation. It’s these guys that will be cleaning up our mess and figuring out how to make this world livable.” So it would behoove us to let them know what’s up…on their terms. I’m not saying we should all drop everything and go talk to some pre-Kers, but if the opportunity presents itself…heck yeah, go for it!

When I can watch a 5 year-old finally make the connection between the plastic she’s holding in herΒ hand and the picture of the dead Laysan Albatross fledgling, I know that something is working and that these kids will be OK. Don’t underestimate the power of the little ones. πŸ™‚

A HUGE thank you must go out to Great Expectations: For Early Learners. Thank you for inviting me into your classroom and for giving me such a wonderful experience!

8 Crazy Months

Flying into the new Year!
Flying into the new Year!

Hello, blogging world!

You might have noticed, upon closer inspection of this blog link, that things look a little different around here. Your eyes haven’t fooled you. Welcome to the year 2013, 7 In the Ocean! There have been a ton of changes happening in my life: personal, financial, work-related and I thought, “Can’t stop here! Must update blog!” So, here it is. It’s still in process and the theme will probably be changing again soon, but for now, voila!

So, changes! What’s going on? If you’ve been following any one of the myriad of social networks I’m currently into, you probably saw me traipsing across various tropical islands last summer and fall. It was a crazy time. I spent 4 amazing, glorious, unforgettable (I could go on) months on Midway Atoll, working as a volunteer for the US Fish & Wildlife System. There, I met 3 amazing ladies and a whole bunch of other crazy awesome people. Friendships were made, adventures were had and lots of laughter ensued. It was, to sum up: life-altering.

While on Midway, I spent a solid week or so panicking about what my future held and what the heck I was going to do after it was over. Turns out, I didn’t really have to worry: ducks saved me! In October, I flew to the Big Island of Hawaii and spent the next two months working for the US Geological Survey analyzing data I helped collect while on Midway for their endangered Laysan Duck monitoring project. It was a great opportunity to see the back-end of research projects and gave me a newfound appreciation for data collection and processing. I also learned the importance of neat handwriting. Come on people, just write legibly!

One of the coolest things that happened on the Big Island, aside from living in Volcanoes National Park and seeing an active volcanic crater every day ;-), was getting to talk to 7th grade students thousands of miles away about the Laysan Duck. Thanks to the power of Skype and my awesome aunt, I was able to teach two 7th grade science classes from Pawling Central School (located in south-eastern New York State) all about the duck and the conservation efforts going on to help save the species from extinction. The experience was unreal. For them, it was a chance to see a young person in the field, doing some pretty neat research. For me, it was just totally gratifying to see middle schoolers so amped about ducks and science! I had students thanking me for waking up so early to teach them, asking me what it was like to be a marine biologist (!!!!) and even received some awesome poems and songs about the duck. Amazing.

The good stuff just kept coming. After being away for almost 6 months, I finally headed back home in mid-December. Christmas and New Years were amazing and totally flew by. Then…I was doing something that I’ve actually dreamed about since being on Midway. I got to talk to people about my Midway experience. And not just any people either. Four days into 2013, I was traveling down to Pawling, NY where I got to talk to the entire 7th grade class of Pawling Middle School about how I came to be interested in plastic pollution research. The very same kids I Skyped with and more! They were curious, interested and asked some really good questions. That day was the moment I realized, “This is awesome and I want to do more of it.”

So…that pretty much brings us up to speed. Oh yeah, there is that whole bit about me moving to Maine and starting work at this place, for this organization,Β which is so incredible. To sum up: lots of changes have happened, life lessons have been learned (some good, some not so good), but all in all…8 months of crazy adds up to a pretty great time.

So, what’s in store for this wonderful, fresh new year? Well, more blog posts, I promise! Maybe a Facebook page? Talking about Midway whenever possible (shameless self-promotion: I have props, scads of photos and stories. If you want to hear the stories, see the props and photos or just talk trash, let me know!). Next up in the Midway lecture series:Β a plastics and albatross-themed lesson for a group of Cub Scouts that I’ll be giving this spring. Challenge accepted. πŸ™‚