The Plastic Tide Citizen Science Project

I’d like to bring a really important citizen science project to your attention today. As you may know, I am very passionate about plastics in the ocean and it is often a huge source of emotional stress when I begin to think about it.

That being said, I often feel like I should be doing more than I am doing to help save the planet because we are running out of time. Being in school and sitting at my desk in my small office everyday,  I find it hard to take the strong activist position that I would like to. So when I came across The Plastic Tide’s project, I got very excited because I finally feel like I am making a tiny impact and helping in some small way, which is extremely important.

The Plastic Tide has created an algorithm that works to identify plastics on coastlines with the goal of determining exactly how much plastics and other man-made debris are actually there. They are seeking people who will examine high-resolution photos of beaches and flag the plastic debris that appears in the photos. This will thus, teach the algorithm how to identify plastic debris, so that it can be used at a more broad scale. It is purely a citizen science effort, which is even more special, as it gives so many people, like me, the opportunity to participate in something they care deeply about, even if it is in just some small way.

Of course, it is not a project that works to solve systemic issues with the creation of plastic debris, however, the quantification aspect is something very important because I believe there is a lot of strength that can come from numbers.

I believe that projects like these are very important in raising awareness and encouraging participation of the people. If people can understand it, they can care about it and fight for the change that the world needs because ultimately, politicians do not enact the needed change, passionate people do.

If you wish to participate in the project, you can do so through their website (link above) or through Zooniverse (as I did). Zooniverse is a platform for all kinds of citizen science projects, so you can explore it and find other projects that mean something to you.

Zero Waste Update (February)

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This month was a big month for me, and probably one of the most difficult of the year. As mentioned in my new year’s resolution article, February was the month for me to cut out all packaged foods. For me, I have defined this as not purchasing any new packaged foods, because if there are still some in my home during the month, it would simply just be more wasteful not to consume them. The way I have chose to define packaging is that plastic packaging of any kind is off limits even if it is recyclable. Any other type of packaging that is recyclable (metal, glass, cardboard etc.) is allowed but in very limited quantities. My reasoning for this is that plastic food packaging, when recycled, cannot be turned back into food packaging because of “possible contamination”. Additionally, it can really only be recycled about two times before it becomes unusable (where the term down-cycling comes from), whereas metals and glass can be recycled almost infinitely. The overall goal for this month and moving forward is therefore to eliminate the purchase of any packaged foods with plastic and non-recyclable packaging.

 

DSC00195Eliminating waste from packaged foods also implies the elimination of waste from traditional single-use grocery and produce bags. I’ve been very successful at reducing my consumption of these to near zero over the past few years, so this turned out to be one of the easiest sources of waste to eliminate for me.

I started this month out by purchasing The Clean Bin Project (digital copy of course). This was such an inspirational documentary about a couple who aimed to produce as little trash as possible for a whole year. The thing that resonated the most with me from this was the incredible artwork that was featured. Chris Jordan is an amazing artist who takes traditional art pieces and transforms them into striking and impactful images. From afar, you could never tell the difference, between the original art piece and his art piece, but as you zoom in closer, you begin to see the true composition of each piece.  They are designed to add visualization to numbers, to statistics. We can put any number out there, but it is not always easy to visualize the magnitude of that number, no matter how small or large. They also symbolize the removal of ourselves from the big picture, the whole problem. If you go to the store and come home with five plastic bags and throw them in the garbage, you may think it’s not really a big deal because you are only one person, but these powerful images allow you to see just how, if every person consumes this, how quickly it really adds up. My favorite of his pieces is displayed below. This one is called “Plastic Cups” which depicts one million plastic cups, the number used on airline flights in the US every six hours.

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Wait…….what?

*jaw drops* *dies a little inside*

Watching this documentary was just the kind of boost that I needed to start out the month and I would recommend it to everyone.

This month I also faced a lot of disapproval from some people around me about my zero waste endeavor. It was difficult hearing, but I defended my position about how crucial individual lifestyle changes are for the future of the planet and how we simply cannot wait for higher governments to make the necessary changes with regards to the environment and a perfect example of this is the new by-law banning plastic bags in my hometown and how it may actually be more harmful than helpful to the environment.

DSC00194One of the biggest challenges I faced this month was definitely the weekly grocery shopping routine. Shopping at our usual locations/traditional grocery stores is basically impossible even in the produce section. I never realized how much food actually comes in plastic packaging until this month where I was deliberately looking for it. We ended up mostly shopping at bulk stores and tried to shop at the farmer’s market but my fear of large crowds got the better of me there and it will take while to gain the courage to return.

In terms of making mistakes, this month, there were just a few incidences of unexpected seran wrap and the roll up the rim contest at Tim Horton’s. They gave me an empty paper cup even though I had my own mug and I didn’t know what to do with it. It reminded me how much consumerism really controls so many aspects of the first world and how difficult to escape and rebel; difficult, but not impossible is what I have to keep reminding myself.

I’m looking forward to next month, which will be removing waste from shampoo/conditioner and soap. I have a few ideas in mind for how I will go about this, but I’m still open to more suggestions and ideas so please drop me a line or comment below!

The Pela Case: A Compostable phone case

Over the past decade, mobile phones have taken the world by storm. With speedy technological advancements and turnovers, they have grown from being a luxurious communication device, to a staple in consumerist culture of the first world. Recently, it had been declared by various sources that there are more mobile phones on Earth than people. This has mainly come to be because many people use their phone for only a year, then purchase a new model. Most of these situations are people who have fallen victim to the well-known marketing strategy known as planned obsolescence. This occurs when companies purposely make products with shorter lifespans, create software upgrades designed to significantly slow down older models or make the old generation products seem obsolete in order to sell a “new and improved” version.

With this quick turnover of mobile devices, come another related issue: phone cases. About 750 million phone cases are sold each year and they are mostly made of petroleum based plastic, will end up in landfills and take hundred of years to degrade. These phone cases are really only used for about a year and then are likely to be thrown away with the mobile device that has been rendered obsolete. in reality, having just one case per device seems reasonable and all that is necessary, but in most cases people can own 30+ cases for one device which seems extremely unnecessary and excessive to me.  I have only ever had one case per mobile device I’ve owned, I also don’t burn through one device per year, as many people do. Despite this already low consumption, I still feel as though I should be doing more for the planet.

I don’t highlight many products on here but I do make exceptions for those that I find particularly special and that really promote the resistance of consumerist culture and excessive and unnecessary waste production. Introducing the Pela Case, a compostable mobile phone case that is not made or packaged with any plastic. Instead, it is made with flax straw waste, plant-based biopolymers and recycled materials. It is packaged in a 100% recycled paper envelope that can of course be recycled again. Because of these properties, the Pela Case is a much more sustainable alternative to traditional plastic phone cases. This company also donates 3$ (CAD) per phone case sold to environmental organizations.

Despite all this, compostable phone cases are not the solution to the main issue at hand which is the consumerist culture that the first world is based upon. It is however, a step in the right direction because it is creating products that have sustainability and the environment in mind.

Below, is a review video of the Pela Case by Ruth, who is my main phone case connoisseur, discussing what she loves most about this product

Blog Highlights… from then to now

The Incredible Sustainable Planet has recently reached its 2nd birthday, and already, I can see a huge evolution in not only my writing style, but also in the topics that I chose to publish articles about. My blog has matured from something I would do for fun on Sunday nights in the library, to something more serious, professional and relevant. There are some true gems on this blog that I want to resurface and will highlight them in this post. There are also some very strange posts that I just want to bury and hope will never be read again.

First on the list is Zero Waste Week at McGill. This was the first time I was exposed to the zero waste movement and I was so excited to take part in all the social events, but with my crazy busy schedule, I wasn’t able to. I still tried to do the challenge on my own, but failed miserably, because I just wasn’t prepared or thinking enough about it. Luckily, I’m taking a second go at it with this year’s New year’s resolution in my own way which will most likely be more successful. Following the zero waste theme, I wrote about Revolutionizing Disposable Utensils which was a project on Kickstarter about disposable utensils that you can eat once you’re done using them. This was such a great idea, as it could drastically reduce the number of plastic utensils that get used once and then are thrown away.

Next up, is Trading Convenience for Sustainability which is the article I wrote when I had two hydrologists as professors. They both introduced me to the immense impact of human water use on the planet and also led me to write Some Interesting Perspectives on Water Usage, which also talks about the hidden water use that comes in products that you wouldn’t normally think about as a heavy water user.

Bringing Back the Woolly Mammoth sounds a bit silly, but actually features some very important information about the human domination of the planet and about recent advancements in genetic cloning that can actually make de-extinction possible.

Did you ever wonder if store-bought eggs could hatch? Well I can answer that! Yes, it is possible for store bought eggs to hatch, was surprisingly, this blog’s 3rd most popular article!

Finally, the most popular article from the past two years has been The underlying truth to why Montreal’s plastic bag ban doesn’t actually ban plastic bags by a landslide. This article talks about how the by-law implemented to eliminate the distribution of plastic bags in retail stores in Montreal could potentially be the source of more plastic waste.

The past two years have been absolutely life-changing for me, completing my undergraduate degree at McGill and then moving hundreds of kilometers away to start my Master’s degree. Since then, I’ve met so many new inspirational people, traveled far and wide, learned so much, and had so many incredible experiences. During all of this, my blog has matured so much, it got a new name, its own domain, new members, new segments, and has really been able to portray my own personal journey and evolution. I hope to always continue writing and bringing important issues to the attention of my followers.

And of course, remember that we always love to get feedback from our readers, whether it is comments, questions, suggestions or contributions of any kind. Hope you enjoyed reminiscing the past years as much as I did.

-Charlotte