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It’s in your nature: Doing our part

I’ve submitted well over 200 columns over the past four years. My objective was to make the Times News readers more aware of the animals and plants all around us.

If that succeeded then I was hoping a few readers might choose to try to learn more about these organisms, how to find them, and in some respects, conserving them as well. I really have avoided any political issues or “ruffling feathers.”

In this week’s column some may find much-needed information and some could find it too threatening. The bottom line, we have lived in this world’s best times, but most wasteful times. Since the Industrial Revolution we also have caused major ecological problems.

Our leaders and scientists have not been able to convince us that we are the stewards of the earth and that we need to keep this earth livable for our offspring. I think it is time we, as a whole, step up to the plate. Hopefully you’ll read on and really think about the future.

Dylan Selterman teaches at the University of Maryland and he, at term paper time, offers his students a choice to earn two extra-credit points or six extra-credit points. He does/did these exercise to see if students could see the link to our planet’s biggest problems (ecologically speaking).

There was a “catch” to this extra credit; if more than 10% of the class chooses the six extra credits, NO ONE gets any extra credit. Probably not too surprisingly, in his dozens of classes over the years, only one, just one, remained under the 10% limit.

Well how does this fit in to our planet? We have a limited number of resources (oil, aluminum, clean freshwater, for example) so how do we get our class (the people in the U.S.) to try to get the two points added to their term papers? How do we, in reality, try to convince the greedier ones, the six-point opters, to be satisfied with just two points?

I believe that most folks believe we use too much plastic and the world is drowning in it. First, you know that plastics are based in petrochemicals, the very fuels that currently power most of the planet and we use it and throw it away. Keep in mind this fact, essentially most plastic production exploded around 1950. Our throwaway lifestyle began then.

For an oldster like me, this is easy to remember. I was a milk delivery boy on a Sunday morning for “Bear Creek Dairy.” I began this job when I was 10½ years old in 1964. I delivered glass milk bottles and pint glass bottles of cream. Most folks got home-delivered milk and returned the bottles to porch milk boxes I visited beginning at 4 a.m. those mornings. Plastic milk cartons, plastic water bottles, are you kidding? Who would dream of it.

Today, nearly 10 billion tons of plastic waste is on the planet. Not even 1 billion tons gets sent to recycling. Whew. …

This either ends up in a landfill or gets washed into rivers, coastal bays, and then the ocean. Eventually this plastic starts breaking up into tiny bits of plastic (called microplastics, less than 1/5 inch in size). Beach sand, believe it or not, contains a rather high percentage of these microplastics. UV light and waves have broken them into these tiny bits. Small fish ingest them, shore-feeding birds ingest them, and they get the illusion of filling their bellies, but some of that food obviously offers them no nutritional value. Thus they feed more, waste more valuable energy to get the needed nutrition and the cycle continues. Sounds bad, correct?

What can we do? Here is where I will get some negative feedback. I own and use two metal insulated mugs that go with me when I drive to the gym, to the store or work outside in the garden. I fill them with ice cubes and water or a flavored drink. I don’t know when I last used a disposable plastic water bottle. I am totally amazed on a trip to the grocery store where I see shopping carts filled with cases of water. The bottles are used (normally once) and thrown away.

Can you be that group of students and be satisfied with two points on your term paper? Can you not buy cases and cases of bottled water that you know ends up in a landfill, river, or ocean?

Someone working at a water bottling plant will want to lynch me. But back in the late ’50s or ’60s, didn’t the glass bottlers lose jobs or retool to plastic production. Let’s try to keep our resources around for our children and grandchildren. Let’s use less petrochemicals to make plastic, let’s return to more recyclable containers (glass) and take two minutes out of our days to fill one or two reusable mugs and begin making a dent in the billions of tons of plastic waste smothering our oceans and planets. Imagine what difference each small community, such as the Times News area and others throughout our state/country can make. Be that two-point term paper person, be satisfied with less so that all of us can gain a more viable and cleaner earth. Reduce, reuse, recycle …

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Beach sands on _____ are actually 15 % microplastics bits. A. Myrtle Beach, B. Hawaii’s Big Island, C. Jacksonville, Florida, D. Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Surprisingly, birds like kingbirds and yellow-rumped warblers can shift from an insect eating diet in the summer and migration areas, to fruit in areas where they overwinter.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

Shorebirds, such as migrating semipalmated plovers, ingest microplastics along with the small organisms they seek on the sandy beaches. These microplastics contain plastic additives such as softeners and ultraviolet stabilizers. The long-term effects on birds or fish is still not known.
Ruddy turnstones, needing to fatten up like many other shorebirds for their migration, fill their gut with many microplastics and need to feed longer, waste more energy and ultimately expose themselves to danger while feeding longer. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Make a one-time investment on some type of insulated mug which will last for countless years, eliminating your need for many plastic bottles that simply become nonbiodegradable garbage in landfills, roadsides and maybe worse, tiny microplastic wastes in our oceans and waterways.