Plastics Wrap

In honor of Blog Action Day, I had declared the theme for October here on 2Dolphins to be all about the environment.   Although I hadn’t planned it going in, plastic shopping bags and their alternatives ended up being a focal point of our eco-blogging efforts.   So to put a wrap (pun intended!) on our plastic shopping bag coverage, I’d like to mention a disturbing issue that I became aware of only just this month — how dramatically plastic pollution is negatively impacting life in the oceans.

Reef debrisAccording to the California Coastal Commission, 90% of floating marine debris is plastic and 80% of that debris originates on land.   Americans contribute more than 180lbs of plastic into landfills each year on average.   With storms and other urban runoff, plastic trash makes its way into river streams, and eventually oceans.   Once there, the plastic gets broken down and circulated continually by currents in the open sea.   (Be sure to read the excellent Best Life magazine article Plastic Ocean: Our oceans are turning into plastic…are we? for more info on seabound plastic pollution.)

One such current, the massive North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is a swirling vortex comprised mostly of plastic debris that’s now estimated to be twice the size of Texas.   The gyre that lies between California & Hawaii is fed by several major oceanic currents and its circular rotation naturally draws drfting garbage in.   Since plastics do not biodegrade, debris continually accumulates in this ever-expanding mass.   Perhaps most disturbing is that researchers have even given this "island" a formal name:   The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.   The ecological damage wrought by this floating landfill might even rival the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Birds, fish, & smaller marine life eat the plastic because it mimics the food they eat, zooplankton.   (Studies show that plastic particles outnumber zooplankton by as much as 6 to 1.)   Turtles, dolphins, whales, & larger aquatic animals often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and die of intestinal blockage after ingesting the debris.   Dolphin swimming in plastic debrisWhat’s more, plastic debris can attract and hold hydrophobic elements like PCB and DDT at up to one million times background levels, making the plastic not only hazardous, but deadly poisonous as well.   Even marine debris that’s not eaten can still be deadly as the plastic can wrap around fins, flippers & limbs, entangling the animal and ultimately causing drowning or amputation.   Perhaps worst of all, after an animal is killed by plastic bags, its body decomposes and the plastic is released back into the environment — where it can kill again.

What’s the solution?   Well, it all starts with us, the consumers.   Ultimately, we each bear the responsibility to recycle more, litter less, and aggressively reduce the overall usage of disposable plastic-based items, such as styrofoam containers, shopping bags, & water bottles.   Like replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent (or LED) lights, a small step like using cloth shopping bags is an easy step that we can all take to begin reducing our need for disposable plastics.

Maybe ORV Alguita crewmember Tony Nichols summed it up best:

The circle of life has a new component.   Unwelcome and introduced by man, plastic is permanent and must be dealt with!

Be sure to set your DVR for Nov. 21st at 3:00 pm to watch Animal Planet’s rebroadcast of the documentary video produced by BBC’s Natural History Unit called Hawaii: Message in the Waves for a revealing look at some of the environmental challenges facing the people & wildlife of the Hawaiian Islands, with a focus on giving immediate attention to the issue of global plastic pollution.

Ahoy Thar Mateys!

We are still in pirate mode after last night’s Halloween party.

Continuing on with our trend of DIY costumes (aren’t those always the best kind?), I put together a salty pirate outfit to go along with Rob’s borrowed costume. I was amazed at how much mileage I could get out of an old red t-shirt. I cut off the sleeves and some of the neck to create a vest. One of the left over sleeves was then used to create strips for cuff ties and the other one could have easily been used as a head scarf but I had already purchased one. I would have liked to have painted a skull or something on the back of the vest but we just ran out of time.

Linda’s Halloween parties are always loads of fun. That girl goes all out on the holiday. There were a lot of new faces at the party this year and a lot of GREAT costumes. Be sure to check out our photos from the evening. And Linda, if you’re reading this, thanks for giving us a reason to dress up every year…you rock!

Rob & Dede as Pirates for Halloween


Media Meanderings

Y’know how quite often you begin reading about one specific thing on the Internet and you end up meandering all over the place?   Next thing you know, you’ve hyperlinked & explored across the Web — reading blogs, watching videos, & listening to streaming audio stuff — and couple of hours have suddenly vanished?   Well, that’s exactly where this post originated…

Jamendo logoA relatively new site called Jamendo that offers more than 5000 free music albums in high-quality DRM-free MP3 format.   You can save individual tracks or use your BitTorrent client to download entire albums in a jiff.   This is an excellent way to discover emerging new artists & music!   All music on Jamendo is licensed through Creative Commons, making it legal to copy & share, and even modify.   Some of the musicians even allow for the use of their music in commercial products or to be redistibuted as part of other projects.

And that’s how I came across Deus and try^d.   French electonica musician Deus’ captivating track called "Nothing Is Impossible" had been used in The Machine is Us/ing Us, an excellent video by Michael Wesch & the Digital Ethnography students at Kansas State University.

Internet-based electronica group try^d’s "Waltz Into the Moonlight" is featured as the soundtrack to a cool new video that I discovered last weekend, thanks to Michele Martin’s The Bamboo Project Blog.   Prof. Wesch has produced another thought-inspiring video, "A Vision of Students," that summarizes some of the most important characteristics of students today — how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they’ll experience in their lifetime.

Jumbo Shrimp and SUV Safety

“Jumbo shrimp.”   “Smart bomb.”   “Freezer burn.”

Oxymorons. We’re all familiar with these. Oxymorons are the bringing together of two opposites or contradictory terms. With that in mind, maybe it’s high time we added another phrase to the long list of oxmora:

“SUV safety”

Almost daily, I hear people defaulting to—and defending—the choice of a SUV when the option of buying a new car comes up. Using lenders for bad credit and getting an SUV is the easy part the hard part comes when it comes to maintaining such a big car and saving it from the inevitable scratches which happen accidently while driving. Almost every case, the primary reason listed for buying this car is safety. And who can blame them? We spend an increasing amount of time behind the wheel and people want their families & children to be safe & secure on the road. The perception is that bigger is better, more steel equals stronger, and taller means superior. Add it all up, SUVs just seem like the safest choice, right?

SUV Safety SignFor most SUVs, nothing could be further from the truth…

A string of largely-ignored tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety over recent years has thoroughly documented the fact that many cars are far safer than SUVs. Yet in spite of the known hazards—such as SUVs being prone to rollovers and having weak roofs & comparably poor crash protection—consumer continue to snatch up these hulking behemoths in record numbers. People are, in effect, willfully overlooking vehicle safety concerns because of reasoning that’s known to be untrue.

I urge you to check out Malcolm Gladwell’s very compelling article Big & Bad: How the SUV Ran Over Automotive Safety for a closer look at the pyschology & rationale behind chosing SUVs for safety.

In choosing SUVs, drivers aren’t only placing themselves at greater risk. No, as I mentioned in my Risky Business post back in January, the combination of highly-touted safety innovations (4-wheel drive, ABS brakes, side-curtain airbags, etc.) and the more risk-tolerant attitudes & driving habits of SUV-owners, makes them a greater threat to other drivers as well. Little if any thought seems to go into the issue of SUVs being much more harmful to the other vehicle in a collision but in fact, the more SUVs bought in the interest of safety, the less safe the roads actually are. Popular assumption is that because of the larger size, stiffer frame, and heavier weight of SUVs, they’ll naturally be safer but the taller stance poses a considerably greater rollover risk, the stiffer frame is very inefficient at dissipating collision forces, and the added mass makes for far less break responsiveness & maneuverability.

Be sure to read Physics Today’s very interesting Vehicle Design and the Physics of Safety article for more insight on the impact (pun intended!) of SUVs & pickups on American roadways.

This is all worth considering before plunking down your hard-earned cash on your next vehicle… Will your next ride still be a SUV?

Bag and Baggage

A comment from Pelf Nyok on Dede’s What’s In Your Bag post from earlier this month prompted a little thought & research on a simple but intriguing plan.   Increasingly, retail stores are beginning to charge for those insidious plastic shopping bags that we all seem to take for granted.   The amount charged is relatively trivial, but the hopes are that this plastic bag tax (or "PlasTax") is enough to influence a change in consumers’ behaviors.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised & proud to discover that Ireland pioneered a nationwide plan, the Plastic Bag Environmental Levy, back in March ’02 to impose a 15¢ charge on plastic shopping bags to encourage the use of reusable bags and help change people’s attitudes about litter & pollution in Ireland.   This was raised to 29¢ early this year to further encourage the adoption of reusable shopping bags.

  The money gathered by the levy has been used for environmental initiatives and has reportedly led to more than a 90% reduction in use of plastic shopping bags and a dramatic reduction in litter throughout Ireland.   Although some retailers switched to supplying (untaxed) paper bags, many simply stopped supplying bags altogether.

So what do you think — should more retailers begin charging for the "free" plastic bags to encourage consumers to be more mindful of their choices?

Blog Action Day Is Here!

Blog Action Day globe logoToday is Blog Action Day, an exciting opportunity to help to raise public awareness of the serious environmental challenges we face and to bring a vast array of ideas & solutions to the table.   More than 20,000 bloggers worldwide — not environmental activists or professional journalists, but regular people like you & me — are each doing their own little part to make a difference.   So while one voice might be little more than a whisper, collectively this is an undeniable roar!

For our small part in this, we posted the following entries this month:

In the Pink

Photo of a rare Albino bottlenose dolphin spotted in Louisiana

Twice in recent weeks I’ve received emails  (thanks Karen W. & Stephen!)  tipping me off about news of a recent rare find — a pink bottlenose dolphin.   Sure, I’ve written before about the Indo-pacific Humpback dolphins in Hong Kong and there are the Amazon fresh-water river dolphins in South America, but this pink dolphin is much closer to home…

This pink bottlenose dolphin was photographed by Capt. Erik Rue during a fishing charter boat trip on Calcasieu Lake, an estuary just north of the Gulf of Mexico in southwestern Louisiana.

This marks only the 3rd reported sighting of an albino bottlenose dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico and is the most recent of a mere 14 recorded sightings in the entire world, with the earliest in 1962.

Where the common bottlenose dolphin is grey, this very rare albino calf has a bright bubblegum-pink coloration.   Albinism, a genetic disorder known to affect mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, & amphibians, is a condition that prevents the body from making the usual amounts of the melanin pigment.   This causes affected animals to have pink-hued skin and reddish eyes due to the underlying blood vessels showing through.

What’s In Your Bag?

Target bag labelAs mentioned in my earlier 1 Bag At a Time article, we’re being more conscious of using eco-friendly cloth bags when grocery shopping and we’ve managed to significantly reduce the number of plastic bags we bring home.

Of the plastic bags that do find their way into our home from the store, we try to find creative uses for them such as wastebasket liners, lunch bags, and mail packing material.   And we noticed on one of the Target bags from last weekend that they’ve listed 10 more ways to reuse their bags.

What other ways have you found to reuse plastic shopping bags?   Post a comment and share your ideas!

An Overdue Gratuity

I’ve been remiss…

Each Sunday, Ed over at The Pisstakers tags 10 of the most recent MyBlogLog bloggers to visit his site prior and gives a nice mini review of one of their most recent articles.   Ed has graciously spotlighted 2Dolphins twice recently in his MyBlogLog Sunday posts and yet it’s taken me this long to jot down a quick "Thanks!"

It’s shameful, really…

Ed’s coverage of quirky stories from around the web is often laced with a stiff dose of humor & sarcasm.   (The term "pisstaker" is actually a British slang phrase meaning "To have a little fun at someone else’s expense.")The Pisstakers logo

So be sure to check out the The Pisstakers blog and maybe even subscribe to the RSS feed so you can keep on top of all the latest witty musings.

Soap With a Soul

In keeping with the eco-friendly theme of October (also see my recent Blogtipping post), there’s an environmentally-sound product we’ve been using for nearly 3 years that I thought was worth a mention…

Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap features organic peppermint & mentha arvensis oils to create an exhilirating, tingly, sinus-opening shower experience that’s about as close as you can come to bathing in liquid Altoids!

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps logoAlthough Dr. Emanuel H. Bronner passed away 10 years ago, the Bronner family continues to uphold his devout spiritual values, socially-responsible attitutes, & ecological-minded philosophies in both their business and their products.   They support sustainable agriculture, farm worker health, & ecological processing methods by making their completely biodegradable soaps with certified organic oils and packaging them in wrappers & bottles made of 100% recycled materials.   Bronner’s remarkable story and unconventional humanitarian outlook even inspired an award-winning documentary called Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox.

Dr. Bronner’s soaps are also available in bars, but I recommend the concentrated liquid.   Note that because this soap doesn’t contain any environmentally-damaging foaming agents or harsh detergents, they’re probably much less "sudsy" than the stuff you’ve been showering with but it’ll leave your skin feeling clean & refreshed not dried out.