Friday, January 30, 2009

You want some ocean with that plastic?

The word "ocean" sounds closer and closer to "oooohhh.... sheeaat".

A friend just sent me a link to this article from Discover Magazine on the big plastic blob in the Pacific. It is called the East Pacific Garbage Patch. Bits of debris -- mostly plastic -- get swirled together from the ocean currents to create a concentrated plastic soup. It's big: possibly one and a half times the size of the United States and 100 feet deep. Like a monster, it changes shape and size depending on the season and ocean currents.

Remember that scene from The Graduate, where the guy says, "Plastics! They're the future!" So right, Mrs. Robinson. There are lots of ideas on how to "fix" this problem -- scoop it up! burn it! smoosh it together into an island! ignore it! But that's just dealing with the monster. We have to deal with the source of the monster: us.

Fishing for answers.

[photo = Madagascar, 2004]

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reflections on La Ventana

I arrived in La Ventana not quite sure what to expect. Add (salt) water and poof: instant community. It often felt like Gilligan's Island, complete with the professor, MaryAnn, and the Howells. The La Ventana campground was like a little population experiment: What happens when you throw a ton of gringos together with three shared bathrooms? How do they create their spaces? What behavior patterns develop? And, of course, what waste do they generate? Here are some things I will remember from my time in La Ventana:

-People in tents are called "grounders".
-Sweeping. Always sweeping. Keep those blue tarps clear of each and every sand particle.
-The hooting of the owl at night. (Don't ask about the cat.)
-The stars.
-The moon phases.
-Sitting up at Pablo's after breakfast, waiting to see a wind line coming across the sea.
-Swimming in the prettiest pool ever (the ocean with fish, coral and urchins).
-Starting to say "eh" because of all the Canadians.
-Sunrises, with mirage landscapes.
-Getting completely humbled by the process of learning to kiteboard. Thank goodness for new friends (and a guardian angel or two) that would pick me up, dust me off, and encourage me to go try again.
-Burning Bush.
-The pelicans, diving down hard and fast.

There were three hiccups. 1) My cough from Christmas traveled down to my chest. I eventually had to take a round of antibiotics to knock the bug out of my system (ugh). 2) I lost my camera after a stupid sequence of events that had me kicking myself for many days (thank you, Sonja, for giving me your pictures). 3) Packing up, I could not find my clever green spoon. It's not a big deal, but I don't like to lose things. As they said in the Matrix, there is no spoon.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who made up my La Ventana community. I hope to see you all again someday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Meet Enrique

Meet Enrique, the landscaper/garbageman at La Ventana Campground in La Ventana, Baja, Mexico.

Enrique arrives every day around 8:30am. He drives the community's white F150 pickup truck slowly, stopping and turning off the engine at each trash can. He throws bags of trash in the back of his truck. If there is unconsolidated trash, he dumps out the loose items -- cigarette butts, orange peels, wrappers, etc -- and then picks them up with a rake and homemade dustbin.

If a family has left its campsite, Enrique fastidiously cleans up the area, raking up leaves, sticks, and stray rocks. All materials get dumped into the back of the truck.

Not all trash is equal: Enrique places aluminum cans towards the front of the truckbed (aluminum is currently worth 6 pesos per kilo; 8 pesos per kilo if he drives into La Paz).

Around 12:30pm, Enrique drives his load up to the dump. He backs the truck into the center of the trash pile. The cows make room for him. He slings all of the bags out of the truck. Someone has thrown out an old kite. After he has pulled out most of the bags, he tugs on his white tarp tarp and dumps the contents on top of the heap. Enrique has a pair of gloves, but only uses them when he is working with prickly plants.

Flies buzz. Cows munch. Carcasses rot. Plastic melts. One cow has a bag of trash stuck on his horn. It looks like an earring.

After sweeping out the back of his truck and replacing the tarp, Enrique heads home. He is one of the older members of the hijo, the 118 members of the community that are in charge of this land.

Enrique has been doing this job for about a year. Before this, he was a fisherman. He says that in the winter (October-April), the campground is mostly filled with gringos who put their garbage in bags. In the summer (May-September), the campground mostly has Mexican campers. The Mexican clients party hard and throw their garbage everywhere.

Enrique gets paid out of the campground fees, which are US $8 per night, per campsite.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Well-Written (About) Rubbish

I just read a fantastic essay on rubbish by the novelist, Margaret Drabble. At age 69, I doubt Ms. Drabble is doing gymnastics, but she sure does back flips with the English language. Here are some niblits from her essay on rubbish, written around the holidays, as well as some photos from London.

Drabble writes:
There are days when I feel my only achievement has been a successful trip to the recycling centre. It's an age thing. "The waste remains, the waste remains and kills," as William Empson insisted in perhaps his best known villanelle, Missing Dates. We need to get it out of the system. At the end of the year, it weighs more heavily upon us. Christmas means rubbish, piles of rubbish. Cardboard, paper, polystyrene, bubble wrap, plastic, the withering leaves of sprouts and the scraggy bones of poultry and the scrapings of grease and the indestructible shreds of tinsel - they disgust us, they depress us. The memory of six weeks without refuse collection at the end of 1973 haunts my generation, and so does the three-day week that followed. These events brought down a government. We fear a recurrence of disaster. We fear the clogging of the arteries, the overflowing tip, the choking planet, the slow march of death.
A bit grim, but she makes it work.

I can relate to her satisfaction in visiting a recycling center. I didn't own up to it in my prior post, but one of my highlights of the Christmas holidays was digging a hole in the backyard of our rented house so my family could compost. I was in a beautiful setting surrounded by loved ones, and my favorite part was digging a hole in the sandy earth? Sometimes I wonder about myself.

To that end, here is another quote from Ms. Drabble:
My finest acquisition in 2008 was a green fox-proof beehive-shaped Swedish compost bin. I love it inordinately, which is, I know, a little sad.
I think I need to meet this lady. Maybe she is a glimpse of my future self. Maybe she is a glimpse of my current self (with better vocabulary).

Here is the link to the entire essay, titled, "There's no such place as away."

[photos: recycling centre in London; Meredith holding up domino phone booths; Seth doing a backhanded glass recycling maneuvre]

Monday, January 12, 2009

Where in the World

What's a girl to do with more than 2,000 pictures of trash cans? I am figuring that out.

Do I sort them by aesthetic appeal? Inherently difficult due to the unattractive nature of trash cans (sometimes I wish I was researching sunsets).
Do I cross-reference them by location: public, private, inside, outside?

What about close-ups of good signage?
What about close-ups of bad signage?

Do people care that the recycling bins in a little town in southern France had brushes in the openings?
How do I keep my album of around-the-world trash photos lean yet complete?

These are the questions I am asking myself as I sort though my photos. Linking the pictures to a location on googlemaps seems like a good first step. Here's my first try at geo-locating a pretty picture of a trash can in Paris.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Diapers: It's Why the Meat is So Tender

Here I am camped out in a beautiful spot called La Ventana, on the Baja peninsula of Mexico. Between learning Spanish and kiteboarding, I make my rounds up into the arroyo (an intermittent riverbed that serves as the local trash drop-off) and the more formalized dump (a smoldering pit with goat carcasses, glass bottles, rusty cans, and the occasional shredded windsurf sail).

For a variety of reasons, I have been considering adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. Yesterday, I was eating an amazing meal of rice, beans, and beef, and exclaimed, "This is delicious! The meat is so tender." A friend replied, "It's the diapers."

Sure enough, going up into the dump this morning I came across some cows chewing on diapers and cardboard.

[The connection isn't so strong at the moment; I'll try and upload a picture or two later today.]

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Live Debris: Red Semilla Roja

During my brief stopover in Portland in December 2008, I met up with a powerhouse lady, Taylor Stevenson, who has her fingers in all sorts of pots that include art, trash, and people. Like myself, she travels and looks at trash. Her work is presented at the website called Red Semilla Roja.

One of Red Semilla Roja's projects is called, "Live Debris: Festival of Reuse Art & Design." It is a rotating show that will take place in Beirut, Rio de Janeiro, and Portland, OR. Here is what she says on her site about Live Debris:

Live Debris aims to share artistic innovation in reuse and recycling from around the world and to create spaces and situations in which artists and designers can collaborate to develop new ideas. The project's primary goal is to dissolve universal prejudices against garbage so that people begin to see it as a resource rather than a burden. If people are able to respect trash, they may also come to respect those people around the world who work and live with our trash.

Go Taylor. I would also add that as people see garbage portrayed in innovative, creative ways, perhaps they would be more open to more creative solutions.