Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Recycling Report

I get a lot of e-mails for local events, and many of them, are cleverly marketed to look rather interesting. But when I realized I was available mid-Saturday to attend the Recycling Panel to update Albuquerque on the state of recycling... I wrote it in all my calendars, and convinced a friend to come with me.
It is totally indicative of my interest in learning that I neglected to notice that the panel was part of a larger event-- the 9th annual Recycle Festival!
So last Saturday, I dragged my young friend along, fueled by some delicious chiliquiles, into a room of about 30 people facing a panel of 5 people, two of whom I knew (one used to live in my house, another I know through his waste management job).
While waiting for the final panelist, the facilitator was probing the audience for what we were curious about.
I admitted, "I have always been a recycling Nazi/ambassador (depending on which side you're on). When I moved here, I had the opportunity to tour the recycling sorting center, which provided great insight into the behind-the-scenes world of recycling. I'm the kind of person that pulls bottles out of trash cans and makes quips at people for not walking the 3 feet to the recycle bin. So I feel like I should be equipped with the best information."
At the Friedman Recycling Center, I saw how they used magnets to pull out metals, and wind to sort the paper. They used employees to further sort, and then baled everything up and sent it away. It was there that I learned the 5% rule-- that whatever gets sorted only has to be 95% of that substance. This was illustrated as we walked around a big bale of papers, complete with pipe cleaners from some child's art project poking out.
Part of the discussion on Saturday was centered around a big change to that rule. China has vowed to no longer accept the world's "Garbage". Recycling plants (predominately in China) have started sending back anything with more than .5 percent contamination.
What does this mean for recycling?
"We should think of quality over quantity" said one of the panelists, as a take-away. This directly contradicts my previous method, which the panel shamefully referred to as "aspirational recycling."
Since seeing the recycling center, and their publications about everything that can be recycled, I was definitely the kind of person who would toss anything that wasn't plastic film or food waste and think, "they'll figure it out".
But with the new recycling standards, people like me need to get in check. Quality over quantity means thinking about the energy that goes into processing the things we put into our green bins, and imagining what it's going to be on the other side.
(We talked briefly about greenwaste, which unlike material recyclings is usually recycled locally, saving another precious resource).
I walked away from the talk feeling excited, and a little ashamed. One of the questions to the panel was how we can justify, living in a severe drought state, the water necessary to rinse out our recycling. No one had a conclusive answer to the same question that I was asked by a family member when I was home for Christmas, so I did some research. I read 8 articles from California, Australia and in between (if you're looking at a Mercator map), and this one tells the fullest story, which can be summarized saying: use gray water to rinse the food out of your plastics, metals and glass so you're not wasting water.

If you're new to recycling, or you don't have the time or opportunity to visit your local plant and attend panels of recycling agents-- you can download the Recycle Coach App, which has a search option for all your queries.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The State of our State and the World it's within

If you were to read every blog I've written (not counting those angsty livejournal pages from High school), you would note a clear shift from environmentalist to doomsdayer. It's becoming increasingly difficult to put down my "Oh-shit, we're fucked" mindset and focus on the joys of nagging people to recycle one bottle at a time...especially in our current world. If you don't know what I'm taking about, pick up any newspaper.

The EPA being sued for violating clean air policy 
Massive Oil Spill in Indonesia

These are just a couple headlines in the last few weeks.

I am fortunate in some ways to get to spend the Spring away from technology and news, hiking in remote public and private lands of Northwestern New Mexico with local students, sharing with them an appreciation for the Earth beneath their feet, and trying with all my might to instill a sense of wonder at this wholly-connected world we live in.
Despite my very full-time job leading and organizing camping trips, I have had some unique opportunities so far this year, to travel beyond those trips and gather beta on the depressing (my opinion) state of our future generations.

Some students on an adventure-focused trek 
REI's latest ad campaign states that Americans spend an average of 95% of their lives INDOORS. Despite constant evidence that, as animals, we are designed to be in and connect with nature, we seem to be increasingly ignoring this connection, and even causing harm to it. This is both promising and discouraging-- even heart-wrenching. Working in a field that promotes environmental literacy, there is a sort of capitalistic promise in that we are making positions like mine, and the knowledge I possess more scarce. But it won't matter how marketable my skills are when our mono-crops have failed, we've destroyed 25% of the Earth's diversity, and billions of people are fighting over privately owned water sources. See-- sustainability and politics/the hope of our future freedoms are more hand in hand that most of America believes, it seems.

Outside Magazine's most recent issue has an article explaining the pollution and mismanagement of Mt Everest. I think this is a beautifully horrifying metaphor for our use of the outdoors. Mt Everest is a microcosm of our use of nature. Find the biggest/baddest and conquer it, giving little thought to the impact of you doing so.  In the same magazine as the REI ad and the Mt. Everest article, there's a review of the movie Mountain. With our decreasing understanding of the Earth and how it's working, and the slow stripping away of our public lands, romantic places to relax and unwind will so soon be full of people and pollution.

This weekend I led a presentation for the Association of Experiential Education conference here in Albuqeurque. My topic was how to engrain Environmental Education into Outdoor Education because it came to my attention at the international conference in November, that they aren't the same thing. There are currently people earning degrees in Outdoor Leadership and Adventure Learning that don't have biology, ecology or environmental studies as a required course. They take students into the wilderness for days or weeks at a time, and don't know of the incredible contentedness of the ecology they're existing in. This is a huge problem.

I attended two education conferences this winter. At SXSW EDU in Austin last month, I stood in a room full of ways to connect students to new technologies, to teach circuit building and robotics. One company teaches through holograms-- allowing kids to "experience" new things. We are clearly on the verge of a futuristic world that I honestly don't want to live in. I was one of three organizations there that offered travel experiences, and the only one that does so unplugged. We are so obsessed with ensuring kids have the abilities to be 'connected' we have forgotten to connect them first with the earth beneath their feet.

My booth at SXSW
At the Montessori Conference in Denver, I was a little more enlightened. Inspired by the Rachel Carson quote,
 "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adults who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in."
I was reminded that Montessori educators value nature, above most things, and students lucky enough to receive a Montessori education have greater environmental literacy than most. The conference was concurrent with the rallies for stricter gun control, which was inspiring to see. It is my understanding that most of what they are asking for is already in play in our legal system...but it was encouraging to see the turnout of families and adults and children of all ages.

Every day, I am grateful that I followed my heart toward a degree in Environmental Studies. And every day I am enraged that the people who make political decisions, educate our youth, and affect our daily lives did not obtain the same simple education. I am working HARD to ensure that everyone, at least in New Mexico, has some environmental awareness. But this fight is taking too long. At this rate, there will be little of our Mother Earth to fight for by the time we win. I am honestly afraid of what is to come. All I can do in the meantime is smell the flowers and wonder for how many years they will be able to bloom.

Want to test your "Environmental Literacy"? Here's a quiz with some basic questions EVERYONE should know.