Reusable Bags

Plastic bags can be extremely convenient, but they are also very harmful to the environment.

Plastic bags are easy to get and are often times free. You can use them for lots of things, like for storage and transportation. Going to the beach and want to bring lunch? Throw it in a plastic bag from your last trip to the grocery store. Donating some clothes or unwanted items? Throw them in a plastic bag and let the donation place get rid of it.

I get it; plastic bags are readily available and low maintenance. But in the long run, they have more cons than pros.

I hated how much they broke on me, the bags could be carrying a single item and the handle would snap in my hands. The plastic in plastic bags is often so cheaply made that it becomes thin and flimsy. I often see people double bag their groceries, even single item purchases, because the handles would break. The worst is when the bag would tear in the bottom and spill stuff everywhere!

Not only are they poorly made and really meant for single use, but they are horrible for the environment. A plastic bag in the ocean often looks like a jellyfish to many sea creatures, including sea turtles! Plastic doesn’t digest, not in humans and definitely not in sea creatures. Often times when scientists biopsy a whale they find several pounds of plastic bags in its stomach alone. Sea turtles have starved to death because their stomachs are full of plastic bags and they don’t have room for actual food.

But we can recycle plastic bags, right? There are still places that take plastic bags to be recycled, but that may no longer be an option in the coming future. In my area, you can no longer recycle plastic bags with the local government—they will refuse to take your recycling if they see a single plastic bag in the bin. To get around that, our local grocery stores have offered to recycle the bags for us, but even that might not last. In an effort to be more green, our local government is trying to pass laws that ban plastic bags all together, so any store that offers them will get a hefty fine.

The new laws and regulations don’t really bother me; I think a ban on plastic bags wouldn’t be a terrible thing. However, I know how hard it can be for people to transition to new things.

Paper bags are still an option for many grocery stores and they are a bit sturdier than plastic bags. If I forget my reusable bags, I go for the paper bags because they are still recyclable and easier to use. Paper bags can also be used more than once, as long as you don’t get them wet, so you can get a few uses out of them before recycling them.

Reusable bags are the best alternatives. They are pretty sturdy and can hold more items than plastic bags. They are easy to store and they come in all shapes, designs, and sizes!

Personally, I’m a very forgetful person, so there are times when I leave the house without my reusable bags. What do you do then?

You can store some in your car to keep at all times. This is great especially if you make an unplanned trip to the store. BOOM! You have bags right there!

Some stores even offer them for free if you reach a certain price point when shopping. Or they are often available at check-out lanes if you don’t mind spending an extra few dollars.

You can also get them from donation-based organizations for helping out or donating. One year, my local aquarium offered them to anyone who volunteered for the day doing local clean-up and tree planting events. My grandfather used to get reusable bags in the mail when he donated to local organizations.

You can even make your own bags out of old linens and clothes. I’ve seen many old pairs of jeans get turned into fabric bags.

A few quick tips for reusable bags:
1. Keep a couple in your car.
2. Wash them every so often, especially if you use them at the grocery store.

If you can’t give up plastic bags just yet, that’s okay, just be extra vigilant about recycling them and keeping them from getting away. Plastic bags can travel far on a windy day, and if they don’t end up in the ocean then they end up as trash for someone else deal with.

Links:

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Reusable-Grocery-Bags-from-T-Shirts

Reusable Water Bottles

Reusable water bottles are a growing trend that is getting a lot of attention. Everywhere, companies and organizations are promoting their reusable water bottles, and they are becoming cheaper and easier to find. And with the growing popularity, more and more unique designs are being introduced to make them more versatile.

Your average name brand case of 24 16.9oz water bottles runs at about 10 dollars, or about 5 dollars if you go with a store brand. You’re looking at spending 5-10 dollars per 3 gallons. It’s suggested that you drink 64oz of water a day, so that’s about 4 bottles of water in a day. At the rate of consumption, your case will last about a week. For a single person, that’s about 20-40 dollars a month. If you can stretch out the case so that you use about one bottle a day, that’s 5-10 dollars in a month.

What if you are a family of 2 or 4? The money starts to add up, and you’re spending a lot of money on water that you can get at home.

In 2018, I put my foot down and stopped buying cases of water. While I personally used a refillable bottle, I was buying water for guests and family. But I got tired of throwing away my money just to see half empty bottles of water lying around with no one remembering who they belonged to. I convinced my household to get refillable water bottles, and since 2018, I believe only one case of water has been purchased, and that was for an emergency.

You never realize how much plastic you’re using until you stop. No more half empty water bottles around the house. We take a lot less recycling to the road now, because there’s less plastic to recycle. And there’s more money in our pockets.

I understand not everyone is in the position to stop buying bottled water. There are places all over the world, even in the United States, that don’t have clean public drinking water, and that’s a problem. So if you can’t ditch the plastic for health reasons, I completely understand!

You can try getting a filter to put on your sink or a filter for a pitcher of water, but those cost money, especially in the up keep. However, there are some organizations that are trying to get their own filters to people who need them.

If you can’t stop buying cases of water, I understand, and please don’t feel guilty. These changes are slow and are hard for everyone to follow right away; it’s up to the rest of us to make it easier for those who can’t at first. If you’re aware of areas in your community that lack clean drinking water, bring it to the attention of your local government. Write letters, shout it from the roof tops, blast it on social media, be loud and obnoxious until you are heard and the problem is solved. Clean drinking water shouldn’t be a privilege; it’s a necessity for life.

For those of us who do have access to clean drinking water—ditch the plastic, please.

Reusable water bottles come in all shapes. My personal bottle has a straw attachment and a clip that allows me to attach it to my belt, pants, or a bag, and it’s perfect for me at work. Reusable bottles range in price; obviously, the ones with more functionality will be more expensive. But a simple, cheap water bottle will work just as well.

Even if you do recycle your bottles, plastic can only be recycled so many times before the material begins to break down and can’t be reshaped anymore and gets thrown away. Every time you refill your water bottle, that’s one less piece of plastic that ends up in the trash or in the stomach of a whale.

Plastic-Free July 2020

Hellllllloooo, and welcome to July!

I know I’m a bit late, but hopefully I can make up for that later. Anyways, July is the month when a lot of companies participate in Plastic-Free challenges.

You can check out the month long event here on the ecochallenge website!

During the month of July, you can participate in the challenges either by yourself or with a team. This year, I joined up with my aquarium! If you want to be part of a team, you can make one for your work, friends, or family. All you have to do is create a team and send email invites to everyone you want to participate.

Once you got yourself set up, you can take a look at all the different challenges the website has for the event. The challenges are divided into different categories and are rated based on difficulty. Some of the challenges are really easy, like switching to bamboo toothbrushes. Others are more difficult, like promising to prepare one meal a day or week that doesn’t involve any kind of plastic–like at all. You can even make your own challenges that will apply specifically to you!

Each challenge has an option to “learn more” where the website provides you with more information. If you want to switch to bamboo toothbrushes, then they provide some links to help you buy the best one for you. Some challenges also provide links to videos or blogs explaining more about one topic or another. There’s even some how-to links if you want to, say, make your own deodorant.

This month, the challenges are divided into 6 categories: food, personal care, community, lifestyle, pets, and family. So there’s a wide variety of activities to choose from!

Each activity rewards you points. You can see how many points you have earned and how many your team has earned. To my knowledge, there are no “prizes” for having the most points. The point system is there to help make you feel good and to give your team the opportunity to come up with their own rewards.

Now, please remember, that these activities are voluntary and are no way a reflection on you as a person. If you can’t do some of the activities for one reason or another, that it completely OK. There should be no shame or guilt if you can’t do something. Remember, it’s all the little things that count!

Please check out the plastic-free ecochallenge! I will be participating this month and hope to have some plastic-related posts for you guys as well. If we all work together, then we can accomplish amazing things!

Hang-drying Clothes

At my Grandad’s farmhouse, I remember there were these posts set up with three or four plastic lines strung from post to post. On these lines you would hang your clothes to dry. I have no memories of clothes hanging there on windy summer days, but I imagine it’s what my grandparents had used for decades before they got an electric dryer.

Hang-drying clothes is something that people have been doing for hundreds of years. Wind and sunlight are free, so why not use them?

A few months ago, I decided to set up a clothesline. I knew that our energy bill was only going to increase as the weather warmed up, and I wanted to do everything I could to negate the costs. When five people live in the same place, there’s rarely a day when the laundry room isn’t being used.

I can’t estimate how much money I’ve saved by not using my dryer. Our energy bills have increased since the start of the pandemic because everyone is in the house all the time, so more energy is being used than in past months. However, I can tell you that I personally feel better about hang-drying my clothes.

This won’t be ideal for everyone because not everyone has the space to do this.

At my home, I’ve tied a 50 foot clothesline between two trees and used a tall metal stake to give the line extra support in the middle. With my setup, I can dry a full load of laundry on the line at a time. My setup won’t work for everyone, so you would have to do some research to see what works best for your space.

Here are some things to consider:
1. Where should I hang my clothes to dry?

You can hang your clothes to dry inside or outside, depending on what you have available to you. If you hang-dry inside, there are things you can buy that can help you. For instance, you can buy mountable clotheslines that you can screw into a wall or a post. There are also bars you can attach in your windows.

Sometimes you can take advantage of your home’s heating system. My parents have a device mounted flat on the wall above a floor vent that is based on a popular design from the Victorian era. This is more suitable for hanging lightweight items.

2. Where should I hang my clothes outside?

The best place to set up a clothesline or a drying rack is an area that gets the most sunlight and easy access to the wind. You can set the line up in the shade, like I did; just realize that they’ll dry slower in the shade than the sunlight. My parents use their deck railing to dry comforters and blankets.

3. Always be aware of the weather.

Days with high humidity and low wind are the worst for drying clothes. Trust me; I just had a day when I didn’t check the weather, and my towels took several hours to dry because the humidity was so high! So there’s a bit of planning involved when it comes to hanging your clothes.

Days that are too windy may not be the best either because you might lose some of your clothes. So look up the weather ahead of time and keep an eye on your clothes!

4. Always read the laundry labels on your clothes.
Sometimes hanging your clothes on the line will stretch out your clothes, especially sweaters and other knit items. If your clothes need to be laid out flat to dry, then hanging them from the line won’t be the best option for them.

Those are just a few things to consider. I’m pretty new at this, and some things have been a little tricky for me. I learned the hard way that humidity plays a major role in the drying rate of your clothes.

If you want to lower your energy consumption, this is a great way to do so if you can. I understand that not everyone can do this, or do it efficiently enough to give up the dryer. For those of you who can, give it a try!

Not only have I not used my dryer in two months and don’t miss it, but I haven’t had the need to buy dryer sheets or things to get the static out of my clothes. Also, I’ve noticed that our pet’s hair gets removed from our clothes when on the line.

Some people claim that air-dried clothes smell better than machine dried clothes, but I haven’t noticed that yet.

There are some cons to this: you’ll have to plan your laundry around the weather, and you may need to factor more time into your laundry. It may also not be efficient to hang-dry your clothes depending on your space.

The pros, however, include less energy spent each month and therefore cheaper electric bills. You’ll also save money on dryer sheets or dryer balls to combat static, which also means less trash in the garbage.

Remember, this is just a suggestion. If you can hang-dry your clothes, I suggest giving it a try because you might find that you like it. If you can’t, I completely understand!

Everyone needs to do what’s best for them and their lifestyle. I don’t know your circumstances, but I trust that you’ll make the best decisions for you. There’s no guilt in saying no.

Links:
https://home.howstuffworks.com/green-living/tips-for-line-drying-your-clothes.htm
https://104homestead.com/line-dry-clothes-winter/

NeMO-Net

Everybody likes to play games, especially video games. Whether it’s a high-resolution, top-notch game with amazing graphics or a simple game of solitaire on your computer, everybody plays games. Even my mom plays Borderlands by GearBox and 2kGames, my dad plays card games on his computer between grading his students’ assignments, and my half-blind aunt plays mahjong on her Kindle.

Everybody likes to play games, and NASA decided to take advantage of that.

One of the difficulties in studying coral reefs is the limitations we have as humans. It’s best to study them in person, but because reefs are underwater, we need tanks to breathe artificial air so we don’t drown while we collect data. We also can’t spend the whole day diving without dying.

Reefs also are pretty spread out and aren’t always close to the shore, so it takes time to travel to all of them and collect data. Funding is an issue because boats and fuel cost money, along with the standard dive equipment, air for the tanks, and the equipment for research.

We also don’t know where all the reefs are in the ocean. In fact, we have mapped out more of the surface of the moon than we have our own oceans—so, who knows where all the coral are!

Speaking of the moon, NASA decided to help coral researchers. They took the same equipment they use to look at stars and pointed them toward our oceans. We can’t use standard camera lenses to photograph reefs from above because of a special law called Snell’s law or the law of refraction.

The law of refraction—which I described in an earlier post—explains how light bends (or refracts) as it passes from one medium to another. Refraction makes taking aerial shots of coral reefs problematic because the subjects become distorted in the image. Using their fluid-correcting lenses, which are manufactured to take Snell’s law into account, NASA has deployed drones and small planes to take pictures of reefs around the world and produce 3D images of what the reefs should look like underwater.

That’s great and all, but all those coral need to be identified, which can take thousands of man hours and hundreds of people. By the time all of the pictures are processed and the coral identified, the reefs may look drastically different and all that data may no longer be relevant. So NASA decided to use the help of video gamers and citizen science to identify all the coral in their photos.

The Neural Multi-Modal Observation and Training Network (NeMO-Net) was created to help marine scientists identify and protect coral. The NeMO-Net game allows players to look at real 3D images of reefs and identify different families of coral, what’s just sand or an invertebrate on the seafloor, and other objects. Players color-code the image based on what they see, so each coral family has its own color, and then players upload their image to a database where other players and scientists can agree or correct what was submitted.

The approved images are used to train a supercomputer at the Ames Research Center to look through collected images and correctly identify what it sees, so that eventually the supercomputer can do it on its own. A supercomputer doesn’t need to sleep or get bored with repetition, so it can go through images a lot faster than a person can. This way, we can get a baseline for our reefs now, and we will be able to identify when there’s a problem so that we can try and fix it before it’s too late.

I have installed the game on my tablet. It’s a lot of fun, and I find it to be really relaxing. Most people can play the game; it doesn’t matter if you’re in elementary school or have a grandkid in elementary school.

NeMO-net is a simple game that allows you to go on virtual dives and identify things on the reef or coastline. You gain experience with each picture you submit, and you slowly level-up your way up the food chain. You can also gain badges and achievements for playing the game.

The best part, in my opinion, is that the game comes with videos that you can unlock. There are video field guides on various creatures you see, how the technology works, and the process behind everything. There’s also written information on the various families of coral you can identify in the game.

NeMO-net is a great way to spend your time and to get into citizen science without any complex understanding of the ocean. And it also makes you feel like you are part of the NASA team; in my case, I feel just a little bit more important to the coral I want to protect.

Links:
https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-calls-on-gamers-citizen-scientists-to-help-map-world-s-corals/
http://nemonet.info/

Beach Clean-up

The weather is getting warmer, and people are getting more and more stir crazy. Beaches are starting to open back up to the public. I cannot tell you whether or not it is a good idea to go to the beach, but if you do, I would ask you to do a small favor for me: please bring a small bag or trash bag with you and collect some trash.

Beaches have always been an unfortunate dumping ground for trash, whether it is intentional or not. People can be careless and forgetful, leaving behind their plastic bottles and food wrappers. Sometimes the wind will carry off someone’s trash before they had a chance to throw it away. And sometimes trash will blow onto the beach from the surrounding communities.

However the trash gets there, it does not belong on the beach. Once it gets on the beach it will more than likely get into the water and travel more distance on the waves than any sailor in their lifetime. Or the trash will sink beneath the waves and end up in the stomachs of whales, dolphins, or large fish, never to be digested and slowly starving the animal as it builds in their stomachs.

It’s a harsh thing to say, but it is a reality that keeps occurring.

So what can you do to help?

Bring a trash bag or even a small plastic or paper bag with you whenever you go to the beach. Make sure you collect your own trash in those bags, pin them down with your beach bag or shoes so the wind doesn’t derail your efforts, and take the trash with you when you leave. You can dispose of the bag in a trash can provided by the city, if it’s overflowing with trash then you can dispose your trash at home.

If you’re feeling up to it, you can collect the trash on the beach that is not yours as well. Whenever I walk a beach, I make sure to bring a small bag with me, picking up trash as I go along. Not everyone is comfortable with this for one reason or another. So please do what makes you comfortable.

The easiest thing is to make sure all the items you brought to the beach come home with you, especially sandals and toys that may get left behind. If you want to do more, fantastic! You can use gloves to pick up trash if you don’t want to touch it yourself, or even tongs or something of the like.

I know it may seem embarrassing to collect trash in front of other people, but think about it. If five people see you pick up trash, then it might inspire one of them to start doing it too. And then that could encourage two more people to pick up trash, and so on, creating a domino effect that for once has a positive impact on the environment instead of a negative one.

But it’s all about comfort.

So let’s say you’re only comfortable collecting your own trash, but still five people see you do that. Then one of those five thinks it’s a good idea and now there are two people making sure they keep their trash off the beach. Then you guys tell your friends, and other people see you too, and now there are ten people cleaning up after themselves and telling their friends about it. Again, it’ll help create a cascading event that will lead to the majority of people practicing good behavior on the beach and cleaning up their own trash.

All it takes is one brave person to inspire a movement that will influence a society, even if it seems like a simple, small act.

Whether you choose to pick up only your own trash or cleaning up all the trash you can see, you are making an important impact. That’s one less bag of trash that may end up in a whale’s stomach, never to be digested. And if you never go to the beach, talk to all the people you know who do and convince them to help keep the beaches clean.

Never forget that you are important. Never forget that your decisions and your actions can help change the environment around you.