Earth Day 2019: Protect Our Species

Galapagos penguin

Galapagos penguin

“In nature, nothing exists alone.”
Rachel Carson, 1962

In late February, 2019, I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, a country approximately the size of Colorado that has more biodiversity per square kilometer than any other country in the world. We were able to walk among, snorkel with, photograph up close, and marvel at giant tortoises, marine iguanas, green sea turtles, Galapagos penguins, sea lions, and blue footed boobies. As incredible as all of these animals are, they are also all endangered species, facing the possibility of extinction, of disappearing from this Earth forever.

Earth Day 2019 Focus:

On April 22, 2019, the world will celebrate Earth Day for the 49th time since its inception in 1970. This year’s focus is “Protect Our Species” and the following information is from their website: https://www.earthday.org/campaigns/endangered-species/earthday2019/

The world is facing a mass extinction of species. All species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods (insects and spiders), fish, crustaceans, corals, and plants have declined, in many cases severely. We are in the midst of the greatest rate of species extinction in the last 60 million years, since we lost the dinosaurs. Normally, between 1 and 5 species will go extinct annually. However, scientists estimate that we are now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate, with multiple extinctions daily. The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% since 1970 alone.

Some argue that species have disappeared before and that the current decline is just part of a natural process. But prior periods of mass global extinction (dinosaurs) in the history of our planet happened because of catastrophic natural events (impact of asteroids and super-volcanoes). They were not, as is the case for the current period of mass extinction, the result of the intervention of a single species, humans. It is estimated that we have impacted (often negatively) 83% of Earth’s land surface. How are we driving this process of extinction?

  • Over-exploitation of species either for human consumption, use of byproducts, or sport

  • Habitat loss such as filling in wetlands, dredging rivers, mowing fields, and cutting down trees. Habitat fragmentation by roads and development on land and dams as well as water diversions in our lakes and rivers that limit the territory where animal species can find mates and food. Habitat loss and fragmentation also makes it difficult for migratory species to find places to rest and feed along their migration routes. Habitat degradation from pollution, invasive species, and the disruption of ecosystem processes (such as changing the intensity of fires) also result in land that can no longer support native wildlife.

  • Climate change alters temperature and weather patterns and this in turn impacts plant and animal life. Scientists expect that the number and range of species (the definition of biodiversity) will decline greatly as temperatures continue to rise. The biggest contributors to global warming are: burning of fossil fuels, animal agriculture, and deforestation

  • The spread of non-native species around the world, the growth of the same crops across the globe at the expense of local varieties, and the introduction of animals into places where they did not exist and often have no natural predators to curb their destructive activities

  • Chemical products used in agriculture and other productive processes

Our natural world has been likened to a house of cards with every species playing a key supporting role. With each species loss, regardless of its size or position in the food chain, the integrity of the entire structure is threatened. When enough species are lost, the entire, delicately balanced ecosystem crashes irrevocably.

Protecting Our Species:

Also from the Earth Day Network: https://www.earthday.org/2019/01/31/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-endangered-species-act/

In the United States, in 1973, congress worked across party lines to pass the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Forty-five years later, the ESA remains the best and most effective law for wildlife conservation in the world. This powerful legislation works to safeguard not only domestic species (large and small) but also their habitats. It’s success has been powerful, less than 1% of listed species have gone extinct since its inception. The law has been credited with saving 225 species from extinction including the American bald eagle, the brown pelican, and the grey wolf to name a few. However, the ESA has been as controversial as it has been successful. Issues with the law have included property rights, the failure to list species, and inadequate resources. It also continues to be under attack, most often from the mining, oil, gas, and livestock industries. The Trump administration has made attempts to curtail and weaken the ESA by proposing policy changes that would greatly undermine protections for our wildlife and ecosystems. This could result in irreparable damage. For example, the endangered honey bee is solely responsible for pollinating more than 30% of food plants. Referring back to Rachel Carson’s quote above, “In nature, nothing exists alone,” consider what happens if we lose honeybees, we lose our food supply, how will we survive?

Take Action:

  1. REDUCE - Re-read Still Speaking Earth’s March 2019 blog post (https://www.etownucc.org/still-speaking-earth-blog/2019/2/17/amys-march-bog-post). In light of the new and drastically limited paper and plastic recycling guidelines in our area, there is a reason that in the catchphrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, REDUCE is always first. It needs to be our first and most important step. As reported by National Geographic (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/03/whale-dies-88-pounds-plastic-philippines/) , in March 2019 , a dead curvier beaked whale washed ashore in the Philippines. At autopsy, 88 pounds of plastic was found jammed in its belly, including 16 rice sacks in addition to other plastic bags, snack bags, and big tangles of nylon rope. The plastic trash was so densely packed into the dead whale’s stomach that it had started to calcify. The whale could no longer eat due to the amount of undigested plastic in its gut, it literally starved to death. As the plastic crisis grows, more whales, dolphins, birds, and fish are being found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. PLEASE REDUCE YOUR PLASTIC CONSUMPTION! Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it takes more planning and forethought. Yes, it is worth it. Make 1 change and make it today, this week. Stop using plastic grocery bags and produce bags. Don’t tell yourself that it’s okay if you just take them back to the store to recycle. Stop consuming them. If we collectively decrease our consumption, then corporations will be forced to decrease their production. Christ Church’s Green Team will be reaching out to our local grocery stores to investigate their sustainability programs and to encourage them to stock reusable produce bags for purchase in order to encourage consumers to reduce and reuse rather than relying on recycling. Could you lend your voice or your signature (more information to come) to that effort? Could you speak with your grocery store’s manager and let them know that you are one of many interested in reducing plastic pollution? Could you purchase re-usable grocery and produce bags (https://www.amazon.com/s?k=reusable+produce+bags&crid=3BWYOWM51UCZE&sprefix=reusable%2Caps%2C149&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_8) and eliminate that plastic?

  2. CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES and tell them you want them to work to preserve the Endangered Species Act.
    https://smucker.house.gov/contact (Representative Lloyd Smucker)
    https://www.casey.senate.gov/contact%20/ (Senator Bob Casey)
    https://www.toomey.senate.gov/?p=contact (Senator Pat Toomey)

  3. Be aware of international campaigns by organizations such as Greenpeace that are attempting to pressure manufacturers to reduce their plastic pollution. Go to this website: https://act.greenpeace.org/page/39417/petition/1?locale=en-GB and ADD YOUR NAME TO THE PETITION urging major plastic polluters like Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Colgate, Johnson & Johnson, and Mars (some of the biggest corporate polluters) to be more responsible and more responsive to consumer demands for decreasing plastic packaging. It’s easy. It’s fast. It’s one way to add your voice to the growing movement to decrease plastic production. Make a commitment to protect our communities, oceans, and wildlife from all of the plastic produced that never gets recycled and that threatens our habitats and our health.



Reduce, Reduce, Reduce (the plastic especially)

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There have been many news items about our planet as of late, from climate change to dying oceans. It is clear we are headed for change, even if we can be the change. The other day, I had run out of grocery bags at the store and I asked the cashier not to put the rest in plastic, because I was trying to not use plastic shopping bags (even though you can recycle them at the store, but my goal is no extra harm). She said to me, “Thanks for saving the world!” I had to reply I wasn’t saving the world, that I was worried about my impact. I think this is one of the damaging things we have told ourselves-that our small acts mean something. We have to think bigger globally, but I think personally, it is about our relationship, our personal relationship with the earth.

So what is our role as Christians? I can think of two things. First, we hold on to hope. If there is one thing that Jesus taught us from his baptism on is that we can choose to go a different way. Jesus left carpentry (a safe, and probably steady job) behind and walked in a way that has shown us a path closer to God. Maybe it is time we take that seriously. Donna Schaper, just wrote a great devotion that rings true here, all related to stuff.

One of the things he preaches in the Sermon on the Mount is to not store us for ourselves earthly things, where moth and rust destroy (it isn’t even a question of might destroy-it happens). Our invitation is to live more simply. But true simplicity can, and actually must, be complicated for us. It is going to take more of our time, but I think it must if we are going to participate in the change we need to save our planet. We live in the age of convenience, and it is clear even our lawmakers assume that we aren’t going to change from that direction. What is it going to take to prove them wrong? A spiritual shift-one that says slowing down is worth it, and one that doesn’t treat ourselves as machines nor the earth as a waste machine.

My mind has shifted that the issue of most importance is not recycling, but reducing-a lot of reducing. It is going to take a lot of work to think about bringing grocery bags, and bags to put fresh produce in. I need to be mindful to bring my own cutlery from home (this great bamboo set rocks and is dishwasher safe). And my own dishes that I can reuse, and I am trying harder to remember to bring to-go containers when I eat out. I say no to straws now, but I also have started asking restaurants who regularly serve straws to stop using them in all drinks. Might you do the same? Let’s admit it is going to take courage, but this is where your voice makes a difference.

But this is also realizing how much plastic we use. We have started making our own yogurt. We buy less meat, always covered in plastic, and we try to buy it locally where it might come wrapped in paper instead. We try to buy strategically-in bulk, in boxes instead of plastic, and if we have to choose plastic, we think of a way to reduce or reuse, but what if we looked to see if we could recycle it before we buy it.

This month, do a survey of your garbage-how much is plastic? What are two things you can do to reduce it. Maybe a spiritual way to think about it is this: do not store up for yourself busyness, which will only reduce you to less than human. But instead, look toward heaven, where time is not a bully, and be in the moment. You do not have to do everything, only something, that is meaningful.

Styrofoam May Be Light, But Its Problems Are Not

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“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
– Robert Swan, Author

Styrofoam is a trade or brand name for the generic material, expanded polystyrene (EPS), a material manufactured from styrene, a petroleum-based plastic. Referring to all expanded polystyrene products, like coffee cups and other food service materials, as styrofoam is incorrect and so, for the purposes of this blog post, the words plastic foam will be used in place of the term styrofoam or EPS. The popularity of plastic foam stems from the fact that it is so lightweight, it’s literally 95% air. It offers good insulation properties that keep products cold or hot and also provides effective padding (without adding additional weight) to help keep items safe during shipping. Additionally, it is used as insulation boards in the construction of buildings and as loose packaging materials such as packing peanuts. Unfortunately, even though plastic foam may be light, its effects on both our health and the environment are quite heavy.

SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM:

Here are some of the reasons for concern regarding plastic foam:

  • Though the EPA has not formally designated styrene (the primary building block of plastic foam) a carcinogen, several epidemiological studies suggest there may be an association between styrene exposure and an increased risk of leukemia/lymphoma (styrene can leach into food/beverages from plastic foam food ware, this seems to occur to a greater degree if the beverage is hot or if the food is reheated in the plastic foam container). Studies have shown that 100% of human tissue samples and human breastmilk samples tested contain trace amounts of styrene. Its only way of entering our body is through the food we eat.

  • Plastic foam is non-biodegradable. It lasts for over 500 years.

  • Plastic foam easily breaks into small bits (who hasn’t had the tiny pieces all over their floor or clothing after unpacking a box containing plastic foam packing material?) and can be ingested by small land and aquatic animals. This can lead to death of the animal due to toxins from the material, blockage of the stomach, or starvation (non-digestible plastic fills the stomach instead of food).

  • Because plastic foam is lightweight and floats, much has accumulated along coasts and waterways around the world. In studies from California, plastic foam was found to be the second most abundant form of beach debris.

  • Because plastic foam is porous it absorbs other carcinogenic pollutants in sea water.

  • When plastic foam sinks into the sea it can be eaten by fish who ingest both the toxic materials in the plastic foam and the additional pollutants it has absorbed. Those chemicals bio-accumulate and can cause harm to humans who ingest the seafood.

  • Lastly, plastic foam is harmful to the environment because it is made with petroleum, a non-sustainable natural resource.

Do we really use that much plastic foam anyway?

  • The world produces more than 14 million US tons of plastic foam each year (imagine that volume given how light it is!)

  • Americans alone throw away around 25 billion plastic foam cups every year! That is equivalent to about 82 cups per person per year.

  • The EPA states that of the 3 million tons of plastic foam produced in the U.S., 2.3 million tons ends up in landfills, with much of the remainder finding its way into waterways.

  • Remember from above, plastic foam does not biodegrade or break down over time and so what ends up in our landfills will still be there even after 500 years.

  • Plastic foam is 100% recyclable but, unfortunately, it is not commonly recycled. The cost of plastic foam recycling is quite high but thankfully recycling efforts are increasing.

HOW CAN WE BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION:

1) RECYCLE YOUR STYROFOAM!
We are fortunate, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to have multiple locations where we can recycle our plastic foam (see below). Dart facilities receive plastic foam from schools, community recyclers, supermarkets, hospitals, manufacturing plants, cafeterias, and individuals. Dart transports the plastic foam it collects to its Michigan recycling center for reprocessing. Once processed the material then goes to a manufacturer who will use it to make premium picture frames, crown moulding, and many other useful products. Plastic foam accepted at Dart recycling drop off sites includes:

  • foam cups, plates, bowls

  • “to go” containers or clam shells

  • egg cartons

  • ice chests

  • rinsed meat trays

  • protective shaped or molded packaging foam (frequently used to protect electronics and other consumer goods during shipping)

  • any other foam with the #6 inside the chasing arrows triangle (the traditional symbol for recycling)

Instructions for drop off include:

  • all cups and containers must be rinsed to rid them of food

  • no straws or lids

  • remove any packaging tape and labels

  • foam containers should bear the #6 inside the chasing arrows symbol as above

Your cooperation with these specifications helps boost recycling rates and reduces the cost of recycling.

Please Note: Dart facilities DO NOT ACCEPT plastic foam packing peanuts nor do they accept plastic foam that has been treated with a fire retardant (such as in construction).

Large recycle bins at Dart plastic foam drop off locations are open 24/7 and are located at:

  • 110 Pitney Rd., Lancaster (just off the Greenfield Rd. exit of Rt. 30)

  • 60 East Main Street, Leola

2) RE-USE OR DONATE PACKAGING PEANUTS:

  • Save the packaging peanuts you receive and re-use them when you send a package.

  • In addition, many people re-use their plastic foam peanuts for their indoor potted plants. I put a layer in the bottom of my pots and then cover them with potting soil. This helps with water drainage. I also saw a suggestion to mix the peanuts with the potting soil to help keep the soil moist longer and cut down on the amount of watering needed. If you are using large indoor planters, plastic foam peanuts at the bottom of the pot or mixed in with the soil will decrease the overall weight of the filled planter.

  • Many businesses that ship packages (UPS, etc) accept donations of clean packaging peanuts. There are UPS store locations in Hershey and Mount Joy as well as others.

3) CHANGE YOUR HABITS!

  • Refuse plastic foam cups wherever possible

  • Bring your own take-out containers to restaurants or your own travel mug to coffee shops

  • Choose paper plates, cups, and bowls instead of plastic foam

  • Avoid plastic foam egg cartons

  • Convince your grocery store to cut out plastic foam trays for meat and produce

  • Work with the school system to find alternatives to plastic foam lunch trays

  • Resist and Reuse packing peanuts (see above)

  • Recycle where plastic foam can be recycled (see above)

4) INFLUENCE YOUR CHURCH!

At the Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ Annual Meeting in June 2018, a resolution was passed encouraging all congregations to avoid the use of plastic foam in food packaging and other activities within their church facility. They further encouraged congregations to educate members about plastic foam and to use alternatives such as paper products or, better yet, ceramic or other dishwasher safe products. Their reasoning was: plastic foam is a known pollutant; components of plastic foam are known carcinogens in animals and suspected in humans; landfills are filling up with plastics and plastic foam does not decompose; there are alternatives to plastic foam packaging that are readily available; and we are called, as a people of faith, to care for creation.

https://pccucc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Resolution-regarding-use-of-plastic-foam.pdf

This is one of the reasons why the Green Team has asked the Fellowship Committee to use our church’s ample supply of ceramic dishware for congregational meals and has been involved in the dish washing after those meals. We have also encouraged and provided information to the Fellowship Committee with regard to future ordering, favoring paper products rather than plastic foam even if that cost may be higher.

5) INFLUENCE YOUR LAWMAKERS!

Contact your state representative (for Elizabethtown that is the Hon. Mindy Fee at 717-772-5290 or write to her at 164B East Wing, PO Box 20237, Harrisburg, PA 17120). Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering House Bill 2560, a bill that would ban the use of polystyrene (plastic foam) food containers in all ‘food-based establishments’ in Pennsylvania. This bill was introduced in November 2018 by Representative Tim Briggs (D-149) of Montgomery County. There is concern that this bill will not pass because of Pennsylvania’s oil and natural gas industry lobby. Remember, plastic foam is a petroleum based product and there are many in Pennsylvania who believe we, as a state, could benefit economically from producing more plastic foam here, not eliminating it. Please consider contacting your representative to tell her that you disagree!

Plastic foam has been successfully banned in many major cities across the United States including New York City; Washington, DC; Portland, Maine; and Miami Beach, Florida.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

We are mislead if we believe somebody else will save our planet, we must do all that we can and convince others to do the same. Change one habit, make one phone call, talk to one neighbor or friend or fellow member of our congregation. And the next time you are faced with plastic foam don’t be fooled by how lightweight it feels. Remember its heavy impact on your health and the environment and say “no.” Then tell the person who offered it to you the reason why you are saying “no.” Shared knowledge can lead to powerful change.



Paper Recycling in Lancaster County - Speak for the Trees!

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“I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
Dr.  Seuss, The Lorax

New Guidelines for Paper Recycling:

As most are aware, recycling guidelines have changed in Lancaster County. We used to be able to put everything but shredded paper in our bins and now we are only able to recycle flattened, corrugated cardboard with our weekly curbside collection. Since recycling is one of the few things I feel like I can actually do to positively impact our Earth, I was literally sick at the idea of throwing all of my paper into the trash. Some may be thinking, does it really matter? Does recycling paper really make a difference? Why should I make an extra effort to recycle paper now that it’s no longer as easy as hauling it up to the curb?

Benefits of Recycling Paper - YES, it does matter!

Paper and paper-based packaging manufacturers reuse recycled paper every day. In fact, in 2016 U.S. paper and paper-based packaging manufacturers consumed more than 30 million tons of recycled paper to make new products ranging from corrugated containers to paperboard boxes to writing paper and tissue.

Every ton of paper recycled saves:

  • More than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space that could be used for other, non-recyclable materials.

  • 17 trees! Every tree saved helps to protect the habitats of beautiful birds, insects, and a wide variety of wildlife whose homes are in those trees.

  • 7,000 gallons of water, another crucial and limited resource.

  • 4,000 kilowatts of energy, enough to power the average U.S. home for six months.

  • 380 gallons of oil.

  • Greenhouse gas emissions (rather than releasing pollutants into the air from a waste incinerator).

Where to recycle paper in Lancaster County:

The City of Lancaster Recycling Drop-Off Center (http://cityoflancasterpa.com/resident/recycling-center) is located at 850 New Holland Avenue. All residents of Lancaster County may use the facility whose hours of operation are M-F 8 AM - 5 PM and Sat 8 AM - 12 PM. Paper should be separated prior to arrival at the facility. Follow the link on their website to a color brochure or see the list below for all papers accepted and separate into:

  • Mixed Office Paper (printer paper, envelopes, index cards, file folders, dividers, uncoated/not glossy junk mail).

  • Newspaper (including ads/inserts), phone books, and soft cover books.

  • Magazines (including catalogs, glossy/shiny paper like brochures, pamphlets, food menus, and mail flyers).

  • Chipboard (boxes without a fluted center such as cereal boxes, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, etc.).

  • Soft Cover Books (can be included in office paper, newspaper, or magazines depending on the type of paper of the pages - covers do NOT need to be removed!).

  • Hard Cover Books (regardless of the type of paper of the pages, all hardcover books go into a separate bin at the facility).

  • Shredded Paper (the facility does not shred paper for you but will accept bags/boxes of paper that has been pre-shredded).

  • Corrugated Cardboard (brown paper bags can also go in with the corrugated cardboard).

  • The following items are not accepted: wrapping paper, tissue paper, paper plates and cups, napkins/paper towels/tissues, photos, and shopping bags.

Did You Know?

Our church separates and recycles all paper it might otherwise throw into the trash! Nadinne Ziegler, the church’s Business Administrator, regularly takes the separated paper to the City of Lancaster Recycling Center. In addition, our last two Fellowship meals (after the November congregational meeting and after Pastor Laura’s ordination service in December) did not use paper plates, bowls, or plastic utensils. We used the church’s dishes and the dishwasher and greatly reduced our paper and plastic waste. We extend a huge thank you to Nadinne, all members of the Christ Church staff, the Fellowship Committee, the Green Team, and our congregation for being committed to the green efforts of recycling and reducing consumption.

Would you consider a new green intention in your own home for 2019? Do you make a trip to Lancaster once a month, maybe an errand, maybe for work? Could you create a new habit of collecting and sorting your paper during the month so that it could be dropped off at the recycling center on one of your Lancaster trips rather than thrown into the trash? If you don’t travel toward Lancaster, could you identify a friend in church or in your neighborhood who might be willing to take your pre-sorted paper along with them when they stop at the recycling center? I have 3 boxes (for mixed office paper, magazines/glossy paper, and chipboard) in my laundry room and I sort the paper that comes into our house daily into those boxes and then take them to the recycling center once or twice a month when I have an errand in Lancaster. The recycling center is easily accessible, easy to drive through, and I have never encountered a wait. Would you consider the additional step of suggesting and implementing a paper recycling practice in your office or work place as well?

Another option for recycling magazines, catalogs, and any type of glossy paper is the dumpster that still remains in the old Darrenkamp’s parking lot on Ridgeview Rd. This collection supports Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Non-glossy, black and white, shredded paper can also be added to your compost pile or tumbler as another option for recycling.

Lastly, consider these suggestions for decreasing your paper consumption as another avenue for minimizing the amount of paper that hits the trash:

  • Catalog Choice (https://www.catalogchoice.org/) is a website that allows you to opt out and remove your name from catalog mailing lists. It does take an initial investment of time (less than 30 min) to familiarize yourself with the site, create and account, and set up your profiles (name(s) and address(es), especially if you are like me and receive catalogs addressed to multiple household members, a correct and incorrect spelling of your name, as well as the previous occupants of your home). After the initial set up, the process of opting out of the catalogs is fast and easy. I collect catalogs as they come in the mail and, once a week or every other week, sit down for a few minutes on the website to opt out of future catalog mailings. The process really works, I must say I now receive far fewer catalogs than before!

  • Read your news via online sources or subscriptions rather than print versions, thereby eliminating your newspaper delivery.

  • Say no to printed receipts and instead keep a small log book to record credit or debit transactions.

Speak for the Trees!

There are times, and I can remember this even more vividly when I had 3 children bringing massive quantities of paper home from school every day, when I feel as if I am literally drowning in paper! The amount of paper that comes into our house on a daily basis is astounding. We have an opportunity, with just a little bit of time, effort, and intention, to help our planet by recycling and/or reducing the paper that we encounter so that we can save our trees, our water, our air, and so many other resources.

Please leave a comment if you know of other useful tips or practices for recycling or reducing paper in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Thank you!