Sunday, April 19, 2009

Recycle Mann: An Undercover LiveBlog Endeavor

Recycling is a hot-button topic in the environmental world. In a culture that values convenience and disposability, many people are not thrilled about putting the effort into recycling their waste. Still, more and more establishments are popping up that encourage their customers to recycle. One such establishment, is Manndible Cafe, a coffee and food provider to hundreds of exhausted, famished students every day. With an emphasis on serving locally grown, organic products, Manndible is an environmentally-minded coffee and goody oasis. As part of their environmental mission, Manndible has extensive waste management facilities with separately labeled beens for trash, recycling, compostables, and paper in two separate locations within their relatively small space. This liveblog is dedicated to finding out whether students at a liberal arts school actually make use of compost and recycling facilities when they are literally right in front of their faces. The customers do not know they are being watched...

4:56 pm - Girl with orange dyed hair actually makes the effort to drop her coffee cup, cap, and napkin in all the appropriate bins. This may not be as revealing as I expected!

4:58 pm - Business is a bit slow so I took a peek in the closest waste drop location and their appears to be some compostable items in the trash can. Gasp!

4:59 pm - Starting to wonder if my time would have been better spent watching the Flyers' playoff hockey game. People are making purchases but not a whole of disposal occurring. Thank goodness for ESPN gamecast!

5:00 pm - It's shocking to think how much waste we create just by "dressing" our coffees.  Sugar packets, stir sticks, cups, caps...It definitely adds up. I'm sizing up the coffee bar to see if people are just throwing their waste blindly or putting remnants in the right place.

5:02 pm - I just watched a girl look at all her options, throw something in the compost bin then throw a recyclable container right in the trash. Much of the plastic here is compostable but even if she got it elsewhere, it is certainly recyclable. It makes you wonder why she took the time to think about it then throw it in the general trash can anyway. 

5:05 pm - Got a bit distracted by a conversation with a friend. I've been scanning though and haven't seen much waste disposal. My friend is self conscious because she knows I am watching her to make sure she throws away her straw wrapper appropriately. 

5:07 pm - The line is building up. This could get interesting...or not.

5:07 - 5:09 pm - I just watched a girl throw all of her compostable items that are markedly not recyclable into the recycling bin. This is so frustrating. At least throw it in the trash if you are going to do it wrong, so that you don't contaminate the recycling bin. What's even more frustrating is that all the signs for each bin clearly show which items belong there. People can be so apathetic. Interestingly, she is now buying more items that she will undoubtedly dispose of incorrectly. Perhaps I should offer recycling reform school?

5:10 pm - Maybe people know I am watching them. This place is unusually empty. It is a Sunday...

5:11 pm - Sitting in a cafe is making me quite hungry but I am trying to limit the carbon footprint of this assignment to just the CO2 I'm breathing out and the energy to power my computer. Therefore, no packaged food for me! A guy noticed me watching him and then proceeded to throw his compostable napkin into the recycling bin. Is he blind? 

5:13 pm - Decidedly, all the workers here think I have a serious staring problem. Oh well. It would add a little excitement if I got kicked out...

5:15 pm - People are really good at blocking where they put their sugar packet refuse. Difficult to say where they are throwing empty packets and stirrers...

5:16 pm - It is nice to see that a good percentage of the customer base at this cafe brings reusable coffee mugs...SUCCESS! I am sitting right next to one waste location and a girl just threw all her waste away correctly. She put trash items into the trash and save her napkin and plate for the compost bin. Some people can read picture signs! Great news!

5:18 pm - More good news. A girl just carried her plate and utensils to the waste location, stopped read all the signs, then deposited them in the compost bin. She returned with a napkin and composted that, as well. This is definitely encouraging. 

5:20 pm - A girl and guy (not friends) simultaneously stood and read the signs at the location nearest me. The guy deposited his collection of trash in each of the appropriate, separate bins and then the girl followed suit. Normally, I would suggest the influence of peer pressure but the girl looked to be considering her waste options before the guy walked up. 

5:21 pm - Girl blows her nose and throws the napkin in the compost bin. I assume snot is compostable. Gross, though.

5:23 pm - It's emptying out in here and I am getting hungry. I think it useful to know that, although there are some oblivious/ignorant people in every bunch, there are an uplifting number of people who are willing to read the signs and dispose of their waste appropriately. It really only takes a few extra seconds to discern where your coffee cup and lid go, and it's nice to see that some people take the extra to second to educate themselves. Especially when the information is directly in front of their faces. Have a nice night and remember your three R's and C (compost). 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

EARTH...the movie

One week from today, Disney will release its latest feature film entitle "Earth." Created in partnership with the BBC'ers who put together the hit documentary series, "Planet Earth," the purpose of the movie is to relate the life story of three different animal families. Using incredible footage and the commanding oration of James Earl Jones, it is no coincidence that the film will be released on Earth Day. Having recently discussed this movie with someone who saw the movie at a pre-screening, it is difficult to predict how it will be received. According to this source, the animals were cute and the scenery was pretty but the producers neglected to make any real statement on current, controversial environmental issues. 

Although I will wait to pass judgment until I see the latest Disney installment for myself, it does raise some interesting questions about Disney's obligation to produce socially responsible or educational material. Based on the discussion of "Bambi" a few posts ago, it seems clear that Disney movies have the capacity to make an impact. "Bambi" influenced the discourse on white-tailed deer and wildlife conservation in general, and continues to do so years after the movie was released. With the production of "Earth," it appears Disney has another opportunity to make a significant impact on the public's environmental discourse. Bearing in mind Disney's ability to target a range of age groups, are they obligated to disseminate a strong environmental message that could potentially incite real change in public opinion? If the movie really does fail to make a statement, has Disney copped out? Have they shirked their social responsibility?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saving the World

There are many approaches that people use to act environmentally friendly or to advocate for environmental issues. There are lawyers who fight for environmental justice in courts; there are environmental educators who focus on instilling environmental ideals in children; there are "lifestylers" who employ environmentally friendly habits in their daily lives; and there are environmental organizers and activists. There are many other approaches but these are certainly some of the most commonly used ones. So, the question becomes: Is there a best way?

Intuitively, it seems to me that "it depends" or "both" is the unavoidable conclusion. Largely, it depends on the issue you are dealing with and feasibility of achieving particular goals. I will use recycling as an example. Environmental educators have the opportunity to make a big impact on children and their future recycling habits. If kids grow up recycling as part of their everyday routine, it will not feel so difficult to continue throughout their lives. They may become lifestylers who recycle for the rest of their lives. 

Current lifestylers may be recycling effectively and that is commendable but they are not necessarily influencing other people to recycle. Organizers, however, may create campaigns to put pressure on local and state governments to ensure recycling through government programs and funding. If recycling is available and mandatory, whether citizens are lifestylers or not, they are obligated to by law. Even more importantly, it is obvious to recycle because it convenient and services are readily available. 

In this case, it seems that the organizers and activists that put pressure on government officials to make change are the most effective but it is possible to see that different issues would be dealt with effectively by other approaches. So, even the "it depends" answer seems like the easy way out, it is actually the most practical way of dealing with diversity of environmental problems that our country and our world faces every day. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Into the (man-made) Wild

When most Americans want to go somewhere "wild" or take a trip into the "wilderness" they often head for national parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone. What most people don't know (or choose to ignore) is that these supposedly pristine, scenic landscapes have the stamp of human engineering all over them. Thanks to Frederick Law Olmsted's version of Adam Smith's "invisible hand," it's difficult to discern the human influence in famous national sites like Yosemite or Niagara Falls. Yet, Olmsted and other lanscape architects since often contribute a lot of planning efforts towards the "wild" places Americans hold dear. 

If the majority of Americans were cognizant of the amount of human influences in our nation's wild landscapes, would it change how they value national parks and other publicly owned natural lands? Should it change? Do we enjoy national scenic landscapes only because we think they are "wild" or because we enjoy our time in them?