What Do We Do With It? — Solving The Plastic Problem

original

Plastic.

The shape-shifting miracle product. It can take the form of nearly anything from a bag to a blow-up castle to a microchip implanted in a puppy. More than eight million tons of it are dumped into our oceans as a yearly regimen, and it is notoriously responsible for the one hundred thousand animals deaths year-round. Boasting a biodegradation period of four hundred years, it’s expected that it we start seeing plastic spurting out of gutters and washing up onto our beaches—tenfold. It’s something that can’t disappear overnight, or over centuries, for that matter.

So the question looms.

What do we do with it?

Plastic debris is seen as waste. Recycling certain plastics is one method to keep it from heading straight into the landfill. But the Plastic Bank, an environmental and people-oriented organization, takes the recycling one step further.

The Plastic Bank, founded by David Katz and Shaun Frankson, strengthens recycling, halts the flow of plastic into marine ecosystems, and provides aid to people who live in poverty. Their organization revolves around the idea of Social Plastic, which means giving plastic so much value that it is no longer considered waste—and monetizing it.

Converting plastic into a currency is an idea that has been toyed with, even before the emergence of the Plastic Bank. TerraCycle, an organization founded in 2001, collects plastic from individuals in exchange for ‘points,’ which are then put towards the individual’s charity of choice. There are also many recycling centers that pay individuals for the materials they bring (in Michigan, for example, a plastic bottle is worth ten cents).

The Plastic Bank’s aim is to make a direct impact on impoverished people through their recycling. Their system begins by encouraging locals to collect plastic debris and bring it to a Bank center nearby, where it is then exchanged for goods, or money. The Bank then sells the collected plastic to companies who want to use it. The money received from these companies is, in turn, the currency that is distributed to the people.

The Plastic Bank does not get rid of plastic. But by adding value to it, it acts as the moderator of a healthy recycling movement that connects both the community and outer enterprises.

But there’s a catch. As the Plastic Bank developed, they turned to something called Blockchain to keep track of their financial transactions, as well as a new method of paying their plastic collectors.

Blockchain is currently the most secure form of digital financial recording, and storage, available. Since many of the communities the Plastic Bank works with have access to mobile devices that are able to handle transactions, Blockchain became the safer option of exchange. Those who hold physical cash are likely to become targets. Blockchain currency is not physical, and so the money received is more secure, as is the recyclers’ safety. Blockchain is the irony of the Plastic Bank.

The combination of progressive technology with the venerable action of recycling is what makes the Bank’s approach to the plastic problem so unique. In caring for the environment, it is essential to empower people on an individual level, as well. Focusing on a balance is what makes the Bank’s process a true solution.

While the Plastic Bank has been a success for some communities, their process has not been expanded throughout any nationwide economy. No matter how much our financial systems progress, the plastic problem will remain. Recycling is the best solution we possess, and since it is already in practice, the future of world depends on its growth.

If the issue is to be solved, plastic production will have to come to an end. For Social Plastic to be expanded globally, it will be up to governments, if not individuals, to advocate for recycled plastic while discouraging further production. The Plastic Pollution Coalition states that every piece of plastic ever made exists today, and will be in existence for at least five hundred years, whether it’s in the form of toxins in the soil to being burned into the clouds. Ending plastic production does not mean the end of plastic. Rather, recycling offers plastic the opportunity to continue to be in existence, and to do so with meaning, and good use.

Plastic will never disappear. But its use is a double-edged sword, providing much good in our way of life while degrading life itself—and never something to take for granted. Before communities, or even nations, take the first step in establishing more plastic banks, individuals as well as corporations must learn to see, and experience, the great value that plastic has to offer. Purchasing recycled materials, recycling plastic, or repurposing it oneself are all impactful ways of breaking the notion that plastic is a one-time use, futile material.

Returning to the original question, what is the solution to the plastic problem? What do we do with it?

The Plastic Bank has taught us a few things. One is that recycling is the answer.

How communities choose to recycle will be determined with time. But it is certain that the more recycling occurs, the better for the environment. Better for the environment means better for communities. Two is that all plastic, whether in use or as debris, must be given value. Without it being in demand, recycling becomes a fruitless endeavor. Three is that corporations and individuals must work together at ground level to ensure that recycling uplifts both ends, in mutual means. This may occur through systems like Blockchain, where individuals would be securely paid specifically for the recycling they do. Solving the plastic problem is about helping all, including our own species, from the individual level, to the state, to the corporate. While we created the problem, we are the only ones who can solve it. Saving the oceans saves us.

Fourth is that through working together—communities with companies, people with the planet—there is hope.

 

Advertisements

Gerrymandering — A Perspective On The Virus Of America’s Democracy

Gerrymandering: the manipulation of electoral boundaries so as to favor one political party or class. In other words, no matter where you live in the U.S., or who you vote for, it is likely that your opinion is not only unimportant, but predestined, when it comes to elections.

The term “gerrymander” is a practice that had been coined nearly two hundred years ago in the election of 1812, though redistricting has been in use since 1788. Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts created a redistricting plan designed to benefit his political party. The result? A newly-drawn district in Essex county that resembled the shape of a salamander; hence, gerrymandering was born.

Gerrymandering, like the electoral college, is one example of how practices founded to benefit those centuries before our time continue to govern us today, but with far less success. What was put in place to prevent mob-rule is now politicians’ addictive cheat-tool, being used with the excuses that there are simply “no other alternatives,” and that, “it has been this way for centuries.”

The second claim is the problem, but is the first really true? To answer this, one must know the basics of districting, and how gerrymandering manipulates its functions.

A congressional district is an area of a country drawn based on the population. Each district elects one member to the U.S. House of Representatives. The intended purpose of districting is to ensure political parties an equal chance of being represented in the House; to attain this, each of these districts are supposed to be equal enough in terms of party population. Hypothetically, if there are six Republicans and six Democrats in one district, then there is predicted to be an equal chance for the preferred representative of either party to be elected. In terms of fairness, this would be quite the ideal districting situation.

Unfortunately, we do not live in the ideal world—so that situation is unlikely to occur. In reality, party populations would be more unbalanced. There may be six Republicans in a state to counter ten Democrats. Since the Democrats have a larger population, they have a better chance of their preferred candidate being elected.

Districting was put in place to prevent that sort of unbalance, providing each party a fair voting advantage during elections. If the district drawer sees uneven party populations, they can redraw the district lines to even them out.

For instance; say a curtain divides a room with five blue-shirted people on one side and five green-shirted people on the other. We can shift the curtain so that there is a mix of blue- and green-shirted people on both sides. While each side does not have an even mix of colored shirts, it is less concentrated than having all of one color on either side. This is how districting is meant to function.

Gerrymandering, on the other hand, is the manipulation of redistricting. If Democrats are in control of the government, they can use gerrymandering to draw more districts that contain mostly Democratic voters, instead of drawing districts with a more even mix of parties. This is essentially what Elbridge Gerry did to benefit his political party.

So, how did he do this?

A major idea of districting is that the more districts your party has, the more votes you have—as each district receives one vote. The more votes your party has, the more likely your candidates will win seats in the House. The more your candidates win seats, the more power your party has in Congress.

Power—an obvious incentive for politicians to exploit redistricting for their own benefit, instead of using it to preserve honest elections.

There are two methods of redistricting; “packing” districts, and “cracking” districts. When packing, district lines are drawn so as to make more districts for one’s own party, and less for the opponent’s. This is done by surrounding a certain party’s district with those of the opposing political party. This is meant to concentrate those voters into a single district, thereby reducing their influence in the surrounding, different-party districts.

Cracking a district means exactly how it sounds. Cracking occurs when lines are drawn through a large district, filled with lots of people supporting the same party, to crack it into multiple districts; thus, increasing that party’s chance of gaining more votes.

These redistricting methods are supposed to help maintain even party populations. However, since Governor Elbridge’s endeavor to manipulate their uses for personal gain, we have since ended up with more salamander-esque districts than proportional ones.

gerrymander-ncarolina

Some could argue that there is a justification to gerrymandering, in that it allows candidates who would not otherwise be elected, get elected. While this is great news for the candidate, the people end up with a ruler in office whom they did not vote for.

One example of extreme gerrymandering occurred after the 2000 census, in Pennsylvania. Democrat Frank Mascara was running for a seat in the House against Republican State Senator Tim Murphy. Mascara was running in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, along with Murphy, while Democrat John Murtha was running in Pennsylvania’s 12th district. Mascara had recalled that, before the election, his district has been “more or less the same for about a hundred years.” This is was not to be for much longer; during the election, the state legislature consisted of a Republican majority, which decided to play around with Mascara’s 18th district. What ended up happening was extreme gerrymandering; Mascara’s district was redrawn so that it was split between two different districts—the 12th and 18th. The line was so meticulously drawn so that on one side of Mascara’s street belonged to the 12th district, while his house, on the same street, belonged to the 18th. The purpose of doing this was to force Mascara into competition with Murtha in the 12th district. Both Democrats now running in the same district meant that Murphy was able to easily take over the 18th district without competition from the opposing party.

Could these sorts of incidents have been avoided? While some politicians claim that there are no alternatives to this centuries-old practice, it turns out that there have been fresh ideas in the wake towards making change. Following 2011, Virginia had held a line-drawing exercise once a survey voiced that a strong majority of Virginians wanted a nonpartisan district-drawing authority. Despite the effort in holding hearings and the writing of a report of this exercise, the idea had gained little interest, as lawmakers ignored those efforts. Iowa, on the other hand, is one of America’s rarities in terms of the redistricting process—to Iowa’s mapmakers, the process is not political. The three district drawers are not allowed to consider voter registration, past election results, or even the addresses of the current members of Congress. These restrictions help keep the redistricting process impartial to opposing party candidates. Unlike Frank Mascara’s gerrymandering incident, Iowa’s elections generally result in far more competitive races due to its strict regulations on redistricting.

Evidently, there are ways to curb gerrymandering, while not abolishing redistricting completely. Independent boards would be more effective as opposed to the state legislature having control over drawing the lines. Though, this is easier said than done; voters themselves must demand change if any is to be made. A first step forward is to question the motives of gerrymandering itself: Shall we let a decision made for an election centuries ago continue to cause turmoil during elections affecting us today? Or, shall we prepare to release ourselves from being ruled by the dead?

Reflections on Women’s March 2017

nycpolicecar

“We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!”

This was one of the many chants that roared throughout New York City streets, just one day after President Trump’s inauguration. I remember laughing as I shouted this along with fifty other pink-capped men and women, wondering how the world could’ve possibly gotten to this point in time. I signed up for the march expecting a chorus over Trump’s insults, pay wages, and women’s rights—and got a whole lot more. There in the city, signs were hoisted into the air bashing Trump’s environmental beliefs, misogyny, racism, heterosexism, tax issues, and of course, his tendency to spew all this out through his Twitter feed.

The atmosphere was warm and energetic, despite the cold nipping at our feet as we inched along the streets. In all honesty, I absolutely abhor going into the city—I belong in an isolated patch of forest, or a quiet country lane. But standing shoulder-to-shoulder amongst masses of passionate, smiling activists made me swell with pride. This really was America, I realized; to the right of me, a mother nudging her daughter’s stroller into the crowd while chanting a slogan, a father lifting his son onto his shoulders, the boy thrusting his poster into the sky with sheer triumph. I’ve never felt more included, or more in harmony with my surroundings.

Out of all these millions of people marching around the world, I have high hopes that some of them will take a step further, and continue to show up at upcoming rallies, and pitch in with their cause. That said, it is true that the majority of us shouting through the streets were working-class Americans, and life demands us to return to our daily work routines. Some may fall back into pattern, feeling that their single act of resistance was all that they could muster. But, simply put, I doubt that many are going to do this. By coming together, voicing our emotions and opinions, we’ve gathered courage and inspiration for more to be done.

Slowly, but surely, the world has been waking up. Donald Trump’s presidency will crack the fog of indifference, of apprehension that has taken hold of so many of us in recent years. The Women’s March was not just about women, or about Trump—it was the start of a revolution for all. It was about breaking past the narrow focuses on labels and numbers, to be replaced by the worldly concerns of all individuals. This was an emotional experience more than a political one. This was for the climate change activist chanting in unison with the feminist, the child screaming for peace alongside the couple calling out for love. This event brought the world to a moment of clarity; that division has been made necessary for unity to occur, and where it only takes one man to spur a world-wide revolution of millions for change.

nomorenicekit

“I digress.” — How To Talk Politics

Stay composed. 

This is not the proper place to argue.

Politics is not a good conversation starter. 

Not here.

Not now, at least.

I’d avoid bringing up the election in public.

Someone might get offended.

Bring your voice down to a whisper.

Teachers aren’t supposed to say such things.

Don’t ask your uncle who he’s voting for—it might be Trump.

Just…

…don’t even mention it.

Mr. R loves history. Loves discussing it. He loves politics. Loves discussing it. But what is his one fault? His greatest, undoing attribute?

He loves, just loves…to digress.

After the U.S. election, kids came to school crying. A girl sitting a few seats ahead of me had mascara smeared across her cheeks. I’m sure we’re all familiar with Mr. Trump, and I’m sure we’re all familiar with the fact that sobbing people were to be expected on that fateful day. School was dismal. Even the clouds were packed across the sky with shadows.

Every class was a drag. Another sniffling kid. Some huffy teachers. Everyone was emotional. No one was talking. That is, until Mr. R’s class rolled around.

“So. Who here is happy that Trump got elected?”

Our class sat silent. No hands were raised.

“Who isn’t happy that Trump was elected?”

All twenty hands in the room crept hesitatingly into the air. Mr. R took in a long breath. His face was twisting red. We all knew what was coming.

Stay composed.

Here began the forty-minute political rant from our beloved history teacher, a jolly little Italian man who wore striped sweaters and rosy cheeks to work five days a week. He was intimidating, now. We froze before him, too shocked to say a word.

This is not the proper place to argue.

In school? I didn’t think it would happen. 

Teachers aren’t supposed to say such things.

According to who? He obviously didn’t care about the rules. Trump seemed to break every law of presidential etiquette, according to Mr. R. Quite frankly, we didn’t care, either. It was invigorating to hear our teacher rant. It was something fresh. We’d kept it bottled in long enough.

After a good thirty minutes of his organized spiel, Mr. R stood before us. A long pause. “Anyway,” he said, slowly scanning the sea of wide-eyed faces. “I digress.”

Did I learn a lesson that day? Yes.

Say something.

Don’t keep it in. Don’t shy away from a political discussion because the atmosphere isn’t right, or you think a person in your group is a Libertarian. If your whole family is made up of Hillary fans, and you’re leaning towards the more conservative, don’t shy away when your sister sparks a debate over dinner.

Stand by your beliefs—and talk about them. This is not just about the presidential election. This applies to religion, philosophy, literature, education, industry—you name it. Before we take action, before we lash out in anger, let’s use our words.

Be open-minded. Listen to others. Learn from them. People have their reasons, they really do. And you have your’s. So, don’t hide your opinions. Share them, toss them out into the open to be praised, to be criticized, and appreciated.

It fills me with disgust when my family members refer to Republicans with a sneer. “I feel a bit holier, having voted for Hillary,” my grandmother told me recently. I had to bite back a laugh.

Let’s stop with this egotistic mindset. Let’s view each other as people, first, not members of any political party. We are not followers, we are individuals with our own opinions. Don’t shun that Trump supporter who lives down the street. Invite him over for lunch, break it down with him, nice and sweet. Let your voice be heard. And then listen, think, then process, in return.

See that list of rules above? Yeah. Don’t follow that. People will tell you to quiet down, say that someone will feel uneasy, that this is not a dinner-time discussion. Be respectful, be courteous. But don’t shut your mouth.

Let’s all learn to digress a little bit more. Small talk can shield your racing thoughts for a hundred years, but if you feel there’s something more to be said—just say it. Listening to the debate flashing across your screen can rile you, but a thorough conversation with a stranger will enlighten you.

It’ll be risky, of course. People will get offended. Someone always will. But you cannot let that fact keep you from expressing your opinions. Let’s talk politics, and not feel restrained. Every interaction is an opportunity for learning, and you can choose to miss these opportunities—or not.

There are wise words waiting within us all. If the chance to unleash them comes, don’t back away. Take the risk. Digression is not just an excuse—it is a tool. Take advantage of it. Listen, and express. Judgment without discussion will lead us nowhere.

“If you’re not careful,” Mr. R once said, “you’ll learn something new every day. That is for certain.”

So, don’t be cautious with your knowledge. Do not be afraid.

Listen, learn, and share with us all.