Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘recycling’

09.17.13mailchimp

“We win!” exclaimed the young volunteer, raising his fists in the air in triumph. He had just heaved a nasty, mud-covered truck tire into our canoe as he stood knee-deep in the Miami River. His genuine enthusiasm was infectious, even though I am not a competitive or sports-following person. Yes, if we remove noxious debris from the habitat, I guess Mother Nature’s Team does win!

I’ve never forgotten this episode over the years, because I’ve witnessed the same fervor among our volunteers whenever we extract a tire from the coastline during our cleanups. Heck, I have felt that way myself when I loaded a real stinker into my solo canoe after pulling it out of the mangroves! It’s the challenge, I guess: large, bulky, slippery, full of water and muddy filth, hard to load into a canoe; a tire is the definitive example of civilization’s intrusion into the fragile habitat. You can see from the montage above we’ve removed quite a few of these bad boys from South Florida’s waterways.

This got me thinking, and then researching, about the ubiquitous tire.

The good news is that 90% of tires in the US are now recycled. But don’t get too excited; since there’s a tire scrapped each year for every person in the US, that’s still 10% of 311,000,000 tires that may end up where they are not wanted: like in our local waterways.

But people are finding ingenious ways to make use of an item once considered to be out-of-mind once it was out-of-sight. Back in “the good old days” people simply piled old tires out in the country, or in empty lots. Now there is less open space for such eyesores and ignorance, but even worse, tires collect rainwater and become breeding heaven for mosquitoes, while burning tire-piles are hell on earth.

In order of preference, the Environmental Protection Agency upholds this sequence: reduce, reuse, recycle, waste-to-energy, with appropriate disposal at the end of the list. Estimates vary, from one to three billion scrap tires currently stockpiled just in the U.S., so everyone needs to become part of the solution.

Reduce
How? Help your tires last longer. Simply keep them properly inflated, rotate and balance them every 4,000 miles, keep your vehicle in alignment. Choose to use your car as little as possible. You will save money while helping the environment.

Reuse
It’s heartening that people seem determined to reuse scrap tires, whole or in pieces, in a myriad of products. Tires rammed full of dirt are used to build houses, called “Earthships” for living off the grid. Roofing shingles are made from large pieces of tires, with the steel belts adding strength. As an artist myself, I was thrilled to find sculptures by Korean artist Yong Ho Ji: large and dynamic fantasy animals built from strips of tires that make especially fine use of tread patterns. Other artisans have crafted the tough rubber of tires into utilitarian items such as shoe soles, furniture, baskets, flowerpots, woven and crocheted floor mats, belts, gaskets, dock bumpers, planters, bike racks, playground equipment, toys, purses, wallets, even jewelry…and let’s not forget that much loved tire swing over the creek! One of my best childhood memories is when my dad gave me a huge inner tube from one of his airplane tires.

If there were an award for “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time But Instead Was an Ecological Disaster” my vote would go to the well-meaning coalition of folks who in 1974 dumped about two million tires into the ocean 7,000 feet off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. They were sure that this giant rubber jumble, dropped upon an artificial reef of concrete jacks known as Osborne Reef, would become a thriving habitat for fish, coral, and other undersea life. Some tires were tied together with steel or nylon bands, some just freely dumped by boaters. In hindsight, it seems incredible that nobody (on record) predicted that the bands would fail, and the tires would move, damaging natural reefs and organisms that had attached to the tires. Tropical storms and hurricanes shifted the tires for long distances. Despite the drastic failure of Osborne Reef, other countries attempted to install tire-reefs in the 1980s. In 2002, Ocean Conservancy’s director of strategic conservation, Jack Sobel, said, “I don’t know of any cases where there’s been a success with tire reefs.” Heroic attempts have been made to remove them but that’s too much for this brief article! Google “Osborne Reef” to learn more.

Recycle
After processing, the rubber from scrap tires becomes a component in at least 100 products. The metal from the steel belts must be removed and reclaimed. Then the tires are processed into shreds, crumbs, or powder on their way to becoming Tire Derived Product (TDP). Ground-up rubber is called crumb. The rubber not only meets the road, but becomes the road, as yearly, twelve million scrap tires go into rubberized asphalt to resurface highways. That’s the largest single use of recycled rubber. There’s a new recipe for railroad ties: grind up 80 pounds of scrap tires, add plastic from recycled bottles, wrap around a steel beam, and wait ninety years for it to wear out. That’s three times longer than a wooden tie and twice as strong. TDP makes rubber composite decks last 25 years with less maintenance than wood. Hyperseal Inc., a California company founded by chemical engineer and USAF Colonel (Ret.) Ronald Savin, uses TDP in their durable and waterproof coating products and caulks (I have to admit I am really excited to discover this company, as it sounds like their paint would be perfect for the deck of WRT’s eight-canoe trailer!). Apokalyps Labotek is a Swedish company that uses TDP for beautiful and tough parquet flooring. Chopped into larger, one-eighth-inch pieces, scrap tires become mulch that lasts far longer than wood mulch, won’t float away, or attract bugs or mold. It’s also used in playgrounds as a kinder, cushier surface than dirt.

Fun Fact: Next time you are in the market to rent a car, consider that Hertz has vowed to recycle every tire from its rental fleet, which in 2012 amounted to 170,000 tires.

Waste-to-Energy
The EPA or any other governmental agency (or anyone with common sense!) does not condone the disposal of tires by burning in the open. Tires burn fiercely, as each produces the same amount of energy as seven gallons of oil, and yield 25% more BTUs than coal, releasing thick black smoke and poisonous gasses into the air. Millions of tires are legally combusted as waste-to-energy in several industries. When shredded, they become tire derived fuel (TDF). However, there is controversy about the emissions that is beyond the scope of this article.

Disposal
Certainly, YOU, Dear Reader, are not the type of loathsome cad who would dispose of old tires by chucking them into the bushes or a waterway! Your state, city or county government can advise you on their tire disposal policies. To get rid of old tires, you may have to pay a fee, which may go to fund recycling or cleanup programs. The information you need will be easy to find on the internet.

Have I tired you out with the results of my research? Hope not; I, for one, feel better knowing that so many inventive and determined people are dealing with this obnoxious, omnipresent representative of our love affair with the automobile.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Research Team will continue to remove the tiresome relics of humanity from our precious habitat, thanks to the winning enthusiasm of our wonderful volunteers.

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!
Hope to see you in a black canoe,
Donna

Read Full Post »

3739mailchimp

Forgive me for getting this missive out later than usual. I’ve been absorbing thousands of words about the oceans of the world, distilling them down to a few hundred to share with you. It’s been quite a voyage.

What caused me to set sail was a news item about a 19-year-old Dutch student who has become a media darling for devising a plan to clean up the oceans in five years. Sounds great, right? Except that the scientists who have actually been working on this problem say it’s impossible. When I watched Boyan Slat present his idea at TEDxDelft I had to admit, he’s the very picture of the Boy Wonder, the young hero our culture waits for to solve all of our problems. He could easily be a rock star with his shaggy hair and poster-boy face. In a delightful accent to his English, he spoke in a confident yet breathlessly nervous voice of his plan to remove 7,250,000 kilograms of plastic from the ocean’s gyres in just five years, even making a good profit from recycling the plastic. He came up with the concept while in secondary school in his native Holland. In 2012, his Ocean Cleanup Array won Best Technical Design at the Delft University of Technology, where he is now an aerospace engineering student. He founded The Ocean Cleanup Foundation in January 2013. www.boyanslat.com
Using the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise $80,000 for a feasibility study, he surpassed his goal in one month: $89,518 was the final tally. At the end of his presentation, when he says, “I don’t know if it’s possible, and that’s exactly the reason I’m doing it” you want to believe him!
Except…
As Stiv Wilson, Policy Director for 5 Gyres Institute writes in his rebuttal, “The sea is cruel and it’s really, really, really big.” And unlike Slat, Wilson has traversed four of the five gyres and has seen the horror humanity has wreaked upon the ocean with his own eyes.
A gyre (think “gyroscope”) is a giant vortex in an ocean basin created by vast ocean currents. The water in a gyre’s center may pile up six feet higher than sea level outside the gyre. Even if you’ve never heard of an ocean gyre, certainly you are familiar with the Gulf Stream. It is the western current of the North Atlantic Gyre; there are three currents along the other sides.
But it was the North Pacific Gyre which was first brought to public attention in 1997 by Captain Charles Moore. He was sailing home from a long-distance race and encountered an immense area of floating debris, most of it small bits of plastic. Soon it was dubbed “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch” with varying estimates of its size; Marinedebris.info states it’s twice the size of the United States.
Not all of the plastic is on the surface where it could be more readily measured. Not only do fish, birds, and animals become entangled in marine debris, they consume these bits of plastic, thinking they are food, causing internal blockages and starvation. Even worse, bits of plastic have been found to absorb PCBs and pesticides such as DDT (banned in the US since 1972, but still used in other countries). Think about the food chain: a small fish eats what it believes to be plankton but are actually microscopic pieces of poisonous plastic; a larger fish eats that fish, and others; and up the food chain we go, with greater concentrations each link until your lovely fish dinner awaits! Yes, we humans are ingesting greater amounts of micro-plastic every year. And we have only ourselves to blame. 
Experienced marine debris researchers, on www.MarineDebris.info compiled guidelines for cleanup of debris, especially plastics, from the open sea. Slat did attempt to address these issues but I have yet to find an actual scientist who supports his plan (doesn’t mean they don’t exist, just that the community of researchers who have been battling marine debris for years do not agree with him).
Briefly, here are the basic challenges Slat’s system will face, according to MarineDebris.info and 5 Gyre’s Stiv Wilson:
1. the size and depth of the ocean gyres within which floating marine plastics tend to gather; Slat may have to moor his platforms at 4,000 meters, twice as deep as BP’s Atlantis dual oil and gas production facility, 190 miles south of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico which at 2,000 meters, is the deepest mooring in the world.
2. depth and concentration of microplastics; Slat’s system uses long, flexible surface booms, but debris can drift down the water column, to 150 meters or more.
3. capturing tiny particles of plastics while not harming microscopic marine organisms such as plankton mingled with the plastics.
4. potential for entanglement of larger marine life in the systems. Wilson: “If one endangered sea turtle was caught up? The fines that Slat would face would bankrupt his project in a second.”
5. strength and stability in extreme sea conditions; Slat’s array would not survive weeks of thirty-foot waves. It would become marine debris itself, a hazard to maritime navigation.
6. maintenance and fouling; Wilson: “Outer space is less corrosive to machines than the ocean is” and sea life grows rapidly on any surface.
7. the physical properties of ocean-weathered plastic; Slat claims that plastics retrieved from the five gyres for recycling would be financially profitable. He does admit it would not be of top quality; other sources state it would be worthless due to degradation. Recycled materials must be clean to be utilized, and this material would be fouled by sea life such as barnacles.
8. legal issues; a bewildering multitude of laws regulate the deployment of structures at sea.
Like Stiv Wilson, I hate to be thought of as a bitter “kid-hater” because I am really happy there are 19-year-olds like Boyan Slat in the world. You probably agree: “what is wrong with kids today?” is a common lament. Unlike most people, however, I have been blessed to know many great kids like him who have volunteered with Wildlife Research Team. I have to wish him well.
In closing, I quite liked this comment from “Harry,” who watches over a particular beach in Maine, and discusses his findings in his blog, on Slat’s plan: “This idea that if we’ve messed something up, there’s science/tech out there that can fix it. That keeps us from having to make the hard choices about our lifestyle. In this case, there isn’t. It is not possible to clean the oceans up of their debris. Not without breaking the bank of every nation on earth and scooping out and killing all the life in its first 100 feet of depth. That’s what we have done to our planet in just a couple generations. That’s plastic’s legacy. We cannot actively go out and clean it up in any meaningful way. What we can do is to change consumption behavior, change materials, improve waste management; do the things that stop persistent plastic from getting in the ocean in the first place.”
It starts with me, and with you. What actions can we take today to reduce our dependence on plastic?
Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!
Hope to see you in a black canoe,
Donna
P.S. Another great source you should check out is DeepSeaNews. It’s Cocktail Week!
Photo credit: Donna McVicar Kazo
A Portugese Man o’ War, 
Physalia physalis, like plastic, lets the winds and currents take it where they may.

Read Full Post »