Plastic bags and the 5 Gyres Institute

For my event, I went to the event that we had in sustainability week titled “ban the bag ban.” Though the name gets a little confusing, we talked about how the bag ban on Folly went into effect and the bans that are trying to ban that ban. We started off by watching the movie that was produced by the 5 Gyres Institute on microplastics in the ocean. The movie was called the “Smog of the Sea” which is what they call these plastics which are broken down into tiny pieces and then ingested by the fish. They sailed through the Bermuda Triangle and collected samples along the way with special nets. They also examined small fish that had been caught and counted the pieces of plastic that were ingested by them. Their estimate is that there are 8 million tons of plastic dumped into the ocean each year. With their samples, they resolved that 5.2 Trillion plastic particles could be found floating on the surface of the ocean at any time. Not only are these plastics harmful to the fish which ingest them but, they are also hydrophobic which means they don’t soak up water but they soak up everything that that doesn’t mix with the saltwater, meaning chemicals. These chemicals are released into the bodies of the fish when they ingest the plastic and then they are caught for us to eat. This means we are eating the muscles, which are the parts with all the toxins.

After the movie, we talked about the ban on plastic bags and the people in government that support it. We were then able to write them postcards thanking them for support and encouraging them to keep up the good fight. We also talked about how wasteful plastic bags are. There are over 1 trillion plastic bags manufactured in a year, taking 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture them. Each American uses approximately 813 plastic bags in a year. At the end, we received CofC reusable bags. The very next time I went to the store, I made sure to ask for the paper bags!


Like a lot of my classmates, I had never heard of greenwashing before Thursday. As I began to research for this post, one of the things that stuck out most to me was the greenwashing of bottled water. To me, when I think of plastic bottles, “green” is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, companies are actually claiming that their water bottles are more environmentally friendly. According to Nestle – which produces Nestle Pure Life, Perrier, Poland Spring, and S. Pellegrino –  “bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world.” Obviously, this is not the case. The average plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose. These bottles also require two non-renewable materials, oil and natural gas. People may claim that this plastic is ok because it’s recyclable, right? Wrong. Though of course, these bottles are recyclable, it is said that almost 60% of plastic bottles end up in the landfill, contributing to the large global amount of trash and plastic pollution. The recycling of plastics is also not as easy as they make it sound because it can never be fully decomposed. Oftentimes, this plastic loses much of its properties and quality when being recycled. Companies, such as Arrowhead, promote words such as “eco-friendly” with new “eco-shapes.” These describe their use of “less plastic,” which may seem great but it’s still harmful to our environment, not only in the production but in what happens after we are done with them.

It’s incredible to me that people can claim that they are “green” and “eco-friendly” when they have no evidence to back up these claims and are often doing more harm than good. This can be seen everywhere and it’s hard to know what is actually eco-friendly or even slightly less bad.

Less Stuff???

When I was around 7 years old, my sister and her son moved in with us. One thing that my sister did on a regular basis was to give things to “charity”. This meant going through toys, clothes and whatever else and giving away the old things we didn’t need or simply didn’t use. The first time she approached my room with a giant black trash bag, I definitely freaked out internally. Less stuff?? What if she gave away my favorite shirt with that beautiful horse or my favorite stuffed dog from Build-a-bear! She, in fact, did not get rid of those things but she did give away the things at the way back of my closet that I never used. Over the years, we made this a yearly routine, going through our closets and giving bags away or simply passing them to our younger friends. Though it was annoying sometimes, and sometimes I didn’t want to give up something, even though I hadn’t used it in years, I am incredibly grateful for my sister’s ways. Now, I continue this tradition and it greatly helps, especially with living in a very small apartment downtown. I have grown less attached to my stuff and it greatly cuts down on clutter, which is definitely a stress reliever.  I think that it has also cut down on the amount of clothes and other things that I buy. If I know I am only going to wear it once, I’m not going to buy it. To me, the movie Minimalism was simply on cutting down on the amount that we buy. I absolutely love this idea, and though I am not perfect at it, I try to buy less and have less clutter. It’s not only helpful to our environment, but also to the level of stress I have (plus, it’s a lot better for moving).

Air Pollution

Being a Public Health major, I like to find things that are studied as a Public Health problem, but also as an environmental issue. Obviously, most of our degradation of the environment directly affects us. However, something I found quite interesting was indoor air pollution. Before talking about it in class and then watching a TED talk, which was coming up with a stove that would cut down on the problem, I always thought about pollution being outdoor. When I hear the word pollution, I thought of factory emissions or plastic bottles floating in the ocean.

Indoor pollution is a form of pollution that is mainly produced by cooking fires, such as that in third world countries. These fires are inside of the people houses, and are used not only for cooking, but for warmth. For fuel, the people use biomass (derived from living resources, such as wood and animal excriments).

From a health standpoint, the smoke from the fire contained in the villagers house is a major killer. These people, who are mostly women and children, need this fire for warmth and cooking, but they are constantly breathing in the thick smoke. According to the TED talk, some of the children breath in the smoke equivalant smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. This leads to many health problems, such as lung problems and strokes.

From an environmental standpoint, the fires produce black carbon, which is the second biggest contributer to carbon change. As talked about in the TED talk, these fires contribute more black carbon than all of the cars and truck in the world, combined. It can also lead to deforestation, because of the constant need for more fuel.

Though this is a major problem, the cookstoves talked about in the video could be a major help! It not only saves on fuel, but it produces electricity for the villagers to use. This talk gave me a renewed source of hope, because even though sometimes the issues hurting our environment seem overwhelming and impossible to reverse, there are people coming up with solutions that will make areas more sustainable and reverse or stop some of the effects on our environment.

TED Talk:

A new look on food

One thing that has been addressed in many of my Public Health classes, as well as today in class, is something that I think is often overlooked. The way that our food is processed so that we can buy it in the store or order it in a restaurant is a process that not only harms our environment but can also harm our health.

Animal agriculture has many effects on our environment. It is a large source of income for most countries with approximately 45% of the world’s land being specifically used for raising livestock. This increasing need for land comes with consequences such as deforestation, and desertification. The large amount of animals being raised for consumption comes with the need to feed and water these creatures. Though deforestation is sometimes the result of logging, it can also occur from clearing the land for animal grazing or for growing crops. As we discussed in class, animal agriculture accounts for 80-90% of the water consumption in the United States! This was definitely a surprise to me!

Though I have heard about these things before, most of these things still came as a shock to me. Another thing that is surprising is how animal agriculture is responsible for over 30% of global greenhouse emissions! Also, I never thought about how animal agriculture would contribute to targeted killing.

The things I have mentioned above have to do with the environment directly, however, these things can also affect our health as humans.  Because of the demand for meat, the animals are placed in cramped conditions, which provide a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. This means that the animals have to be treated with wide-range antibiotics to keep them from being sick. The antibiotics also make the animals grow bigger, faster. However, the excrement from these animals, containing these antibiotics have the possibility of infecting the ground water. If the ground water is infected, the effects could be harmful to our health.

I did not realize before how animal agriculture could affect the environment in so many ways. This is definitely something that we need to find solutions for.