Reducing Waste Throughout Your Day

Many of us have set routines to navigate through our days, whether we recognize them or not. However, few realize the amount of waste created throughout those routines. In the shower, no one really stops to think about what we do with the plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles when they’re empty or how much water is wasted waiting for the shower to get warm. What about the single-use k-cups for a Keurig coffee maker or the plastic water bottle taken to class or work? What about the amount of food thrown away after dinner? The point is that, there are many ways to reduce waste through the daily routines that we have.

               These little decisions in everyday life are not the driving force of this accumulation of waste. In reality, this accumulation is a product of a capitalist economic structure that requires this level of waste production from those participating in it, just so they can survive. One of the major issues within capitalism is the drive to expand, or globalization. This forces companies to have their products made in other countries where the labor and production process is cheaper. This results in exploitation of labor and depletion of resources in that country. Also, due to the number of miles these products have to travel, there is also energy waste created in travel. The cheaper labor fosters the “throw away culture” that the United Stated currently has and makes it more affordable, in some cases, to buy a new product than to fix a current one. Also, this depletion of resources in the countries that US companies outsource to forces them to rely on the production businesses to essentially run their economies. This gives the powerful countries a lot of economic control over the weaker countries who are losing resources. Most of the countries where this production is a key to their economic prosperity are underdeveloped and, with their economic authority given to other countries, will most likely never become fully developed or will take a very large amount of time to be able to be fully developed.

               Even though the products of a capitalist economy and perpetuation of that structure contribute to the amount of waste produced, there are steps that people can take in their every day lives that can reduce waste produced by the individual. Buying coffee from a coffee shop in the morning is a typical practice for most Americans, however this creates an enormous amount of waste around the world. Starbucks uses over four billion paper cups each year and most end up in landfills due to the combination of paper and plastic. Starbucks released a statement on the ability to recycle their plastic and paper cups:

“Recycling seems like a simple, straightforward initiative but it’s actually quite challenging. Our customers’ ability to recycle our cups, whether at home, at work, in public spaces or in our stores, is dependent upon multiple factors, including local government policies and access to recycling markets such as paper mills and plastic processors.

Some communities readily recycle our paper and plastic cups, but with operations in 75 countries, Starbucks faces a patchwork of recycling infrastructure and market conditions. Additionally, in many of our stores landlords control the waste collection and decide whether or not they want to provide recycling. These challenges require recycling programs be customized to each store and market and may limit our ability to offer recycling in some stores.”

Coffee companies are addressing the inability to recycle their cups, but one could eliminate that waste by taking a reusable cup to a coffee shop. In Starbucks now, they sell reusable cups specific for their brand. Although Starbucks is only one example, I believe replacing single use cups with re-usable ones, and using that strategy for other food or single-use items, can be applied in many other facets of life.

 

 

In the work place and school, a lot of paper waste is created. Buying recycled paper products and keeping recycle bins in convenient places around the office or school are techniques that could reduce this waste. Also buying energy efficient technology would curb energy waste. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a “tool created to help institutional purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare, and select desktop computers, notebooks, and monitors based on their environmental attributes”. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPEAT certified products “must meet environmental performance criteria that address: materials selection, design for product longevity, reuse and recycling, energy conservation, end-of-life management and corporate performance”.

For college students, this can be an even bigger challenge due to the lack of access to stores and transportation. However, there are a multitude of ways to reduce waste in a college setting. From packaging-free shampoo bars and sustainable dental floss, to bringing your own cups to parties instead of using plastic cups, “Trash is For Tossers” provides many guides, tips, and tricks to reducing waste in one’s life.

Unfortunately, the lifestyle that reduces waste is not the most accessible one. The “zero waste” lifestyle is a privileged lifestyle. Not every person has accessibility to the resources that help this life choice or the money to be able to attain those resources like reusable produce bags or washable straws. Also, some don’t have the privilege of an education that teaches them about this lifestyle or the hazards of waste produces by other lifestyles.

Working toward reducing waste is a noble effort and an honorable goal. However, it is still a difficult process to adopt due to the wasteful culture we live in. There are many ways to reduce waste in multiple life settings, but it is important to remember that one does not have to, and is usually not able to, switch these habits completely in a short amount of time. Attempting to reduce and being conscious of waste production is important and is becoming necessary to sustain our planet but be patient with the process. Everyone wants a chance to save the world, and through waste reduction efforts, you can get that opportunity. Remember, every day, that you can take steps to save the world.

The Battle of Capitalism: A Struggle Between Profits and Welfare

One of the key driving forces of our economy is profit. The central goal of companies in a capitalist economy is to make the most profit, whether that is economically efficient or not. Large companies find many ways in which they can increase profits. Unfortunately, a lot of the strategies that result in the largest increases are the ones that push large prices onto other peoples and societies. These prices are called externalized costs, meaning they are costs to other people, governments or the environment. The externalized costs of a profit motivated economy have significant impacts on the environment, both directly and indirectly. This blog will focus on how these costs affect the environment specifically through threats to biodiversity (variance of life in the world, particular habitats, or ecosystems).

President Trump recently addressed the United Nations and claimed that the US has the “fastest growing economy in the world”, as seen in this New York Times article. While this is an exaggeration, we do have one of the fastest growing, and many people rarely stop to ask the cost from which this growth is coming. Efforts to increase profits and boost the economy for one company or entity leads to a lessened quality of life for others. By this I mean, to increase profits, companies either directly or indirectly contribute to the destruction and harm to our environment.

These externalized costs can be shown in many ways. For example, the world’s population of vertebrates has decreased rapidly since globalization became popularized. The main threats to biodiversity are also debated, but the ones generally agreed upon are habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and overharvesting or overexploitation. These contribute the profit motive of our economy because they are the least expensive ways of attaining or disposing of resources. An example would be companies dumping waste into rivers. Because they are not economically responsible for the damage they are causing to the environment, this is the cheapest disposal of waste they have.

Large companies from core (powerful) countries use globalization as a way to externalize costs by continually extracting raw materials from periphery (weaker) countries. In many cases, this leads to deforestation and the collapse of smaller ecosystems. The picture below is an example of this deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest from an article by multiple professors and students at Penn State University.

These cases of deforestation result in losses of habitats. Other causes of these losses of habitats are mining, agriculture, industrial activities, and water extraction. The type of habitat loss demonstrated by the visual above is called Habitat Fragmentation, or large losses of a habitat but not an all-around loss.

Pollution is another externalized cost of capitalism and the need it creates to make the highest profits possible. Toxic substances and chemicals are released into the environment as waste from production processes and can have fatal impacts on entire species. Even natural substances can become toxic in large amounts or high concentrations in small areas. Bioaccumulation is a process through which pollutants become more and more condensed in animals’ tissue and then these pollutants travel through the food chain and contaminate other animals. For example, when a killer whale consumes fish that have received these chemicals, the whale also takes them on in high concentrations. Any animal high up on the food chain is at risk for these contaminants, including humans.

The issue of invasive species occurs when animals and plants move into new areas. This can effect the occupying species in harmful ways. The new species can be parasitic to the resident ones or can be predators upon them. They can also bring new diseases and microbes which could cause depletion of the species and modify habitats. An example of this could be, the frim borders between countries interrupting migratory patterns of wildlife. The wall that president Trump continually refers to and the fence that is currently on the border between Mexico and the US are not only impractical but harmful to the ecosystem. The animals that attempt to cross the border while following typical migration patterns are derailed by these barricades          and are forced into new areas which can cause an invasive species issue.

Over-exploitation is another cost of capitalism externalized onto other places and species. Examples of over-exploitation are “targeted hunting, gathering, or fishing for a particular species as well as incidental harvesting” as shown in this article. Especially with species that are delicately balanced, slight over-exploitation could lead to the breakdown of that population. Also, if the species that collapsed is a primary predator to those lower on the food chain, it can lead to an overpopulation of prey in the ecosystem.

All of the cases explained above are consequences of capitalism and the push on companies to drive prices down and profits up. More often than not, multiple of these side effects occur at once, attacking ecosystems from many sides and resulting in increased or expedited destruction.

Some organizations have attempted to curb this product of capitalism by devoting time, energy, and money into biodiversity conservation efforts. In this report by the Overseas Development Institute, the arguments for conservation are summarized, but the specific economic argument is that profits would increase because the “output from land is greater when biodiversity is conserved”. Also, through the destruction of biodiversity, “unknown biochemical and genetic resources” that could be beneficial and of value are being destroyed.

However, some believe that threats to biodiversity are not valid and the efforts to counteract these losses are a waste of time and money. Their argument is that, while protection for the environment is necessary, it is not enough to make a difference. The main cause of threats to biodiversity, as stated in this BBC article, is that human consumption is exceedingly high for the resources this planet has to offer. Their primary issue with the conservation efforts is that they focus too much on protected areas and not on the root cause of over consumption.

Capitalism, and the influence it has on our society, have brought along with them many costs that are then externalized in order to drive prices down and increase profits. In many cases, these costs are imposed on the environment. While this may not immediately affect the welfare of humans, habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and over-exploitation have serious consequences. These factors are limiting resources and are leading to collapses of ecosystems and species. If this loss is not stifled, eventually it will lead to a mass extinction which humans might not be able to survive.

 

Is the World Getting Smaller?

Globalization: the word itself just sounds confusing. But hopefully, this blog will clear a few things up about globalization and its effect on society. It may sound confusing, but there can be simplified ways of analyzing and looking at globalization. Globalization comprises a set of social processes shifting in human relationship toward globality. This is facilitated through advancements in communication and transportation technologies that could potentially speed up transportation and increase productivity. This means that human relationships are changing from personal/local relationships to global human relationships. There are some major tensions within and surrounding globalization like uneven development and homogenizing vs differentiating forces, and there are many questions surrounding both issues. This post will be focusing on the question: is globalization pulling society closer together or pushing us further apart? The answer is both! When answering and analyzing these questions it is important to specify the society one is evaluating and in relation to which topic. My argument is that globalization is pulling the world society closer together culturally and politically, while pushing us farther apart economically.

To understand the current condition of globalization, it is important to understand it’s history.  Globalization has been going on, arguably, since the prehistoric period (10000 BCE- 3500 BCE), as covered in chapter two of “Globalization: a short introduction”, when hunters and gatherers would explore continents and settle on that land (p. 20). The author wrote “Advanced forms of technology capable of overcoming existing geographical and social obstacles were largely absent; thus, enduring long-distance interactions never materialized”. This caused the level of globalization in this period to be very limited in comparison to the next periods in history. Some of these forms of technology included the invention of language and the wheel in the premodern era (3500 BCE- 1500 CE). The picture below illustrates the spread of humans around the globe during some of these periods. Toward the end of this period, elaborate trade networks were established which influenced the spread of ideas, cultures, religions, and, unfortunately, diseases that wreaked havoc on societies that were not used to the new illnesses. During the early modern period (1500-1750), the basic groundwork was laid for the capitalist economic system we have today. With the modern period (1750-1980) came increase in world trade, innovations in transportation and communication, a word population explosion, and an increase in rapidity of industrialization. Now, we are in the contemporary period and are witnessing large amounts of expansion and interdependencies on a global scale. All of these factors and their products were key players toward expansion of globalization.

(http://moodle.bucknell.edu/pluginfile.php/998394/mod_resource/content/0/Chap%202%20v.pdf)

Culturally, the world is more intertwined with each other than ever before. This began with the setting up of trade routes in the early premodern era where people and merchants would travel these routes and exchange goods. This exchange of goods often came with an exchange of language and cultural ideals, and expansion of one’s knowledge of people different from themselves. None of these would be possible, however, without the evolution od technology of travel. The invention of the wheel leading to animal drawn wagons or carriages, the onset of sea travel, the making of cars and airplanes, and the creation of standardized navigation systems all contributed to the intermingling and mixing of cultures. Also the popularization of mass media created awareness of other cultures and societies as shown in Globalization: a short introduction on page 33, “the 20th-century arrival of mass circulation newspapers and magazines, film, and television further enhanced a growing consciousness of a rapidly shrinking world”.  As Shanza Khan and Adil Najam in their essay on globalization, “The process of globalization suggests two simultaneous images of culture. The first image entails the extension outwards of a particular culture to its limit, the globe. Heterogeneous cultures become incorporated and integrated into a dominant culture which eventually covers the whole world”. America, for example, is often referred to as a melting-pot of cultures which is a result of the technological advancements of globalization.

Politically, world societies have been more interconnected than ever. With the innovations of technology that advanced communication and non-face-to-face interaction, one country has more influence on another country than even a few years ago. Before navigation technology such as maps and compasses, one country’s leaders neither had any influence on not any concern with the others. For example, the US played a key role in upholding the reign of some foreign leaders, whether it was good for that country or not, because that leader had a favorable relationship with the US. Another example is the accusations of Russia’s interference in the US’ 2016 election. If the allegations turn out to be true, this would be a perfect example of how technology has brought different countries so close that they can affect the results of an election for leader of that country. While this sense of globalization might seem freeing or natural to some, for others, it leads to an ultimate cut-off of their freedom. Charles O. Lerche wrote in his journal for the International Journal of Peace Studies, “…nation-states themselves experience steadily decreasing freedom of action and ever closer ties to each other”. As each country becomes more and more intertwined with each other, this limits the freedom of weaker (or periphery) countries from the more powerful (core) countries.

Globalization contributes to the widening of wealth gaps between countries through capitalism, which is a fundamental player in ongoing globalization. A key factor in capitalism in the division of labor, both on a local scale and on a world scale. This division is when countries have a more efficient and profitable means of producing a few products and specialize in those products. This creates importation of basically everything else needed in their society a necessity. It then becomes necessary for periphery countries (as described above) to enter into disadvantageous trade relationships with core countries that exploit the periphery country’s labor, goods, and resources. All of this furthers the wealth disparity between countries and forces countries further apart in that sense.  These economic inequalities create other imbalances in the educational and health fields as discussed in this article from the NY Times, which creates more interdependence between countries.

Maps: A Hurricane of Confusion!

Maps are used all over the world and, while they can be helpful to many people, one rarely stops to consider how different maps might affect one’s understanding of the world around them. No one really asks, “who was this map made for?” or “how might this map change if it were made in a different region of the world?”. While maps can be extremely helpful and useful, they make assumption about viewers’ basic knowledge which could hinder their perspective on the world and their understanding of the issue being portrayed. For example, weather maps assume that their audiences have a basic understanding of how to read maps, their details, and the information they intend to present.

A discussion of maps and their usefulness or relevance is inherently a discussion of power. We see it in global hierarchies and government: the people with power dictate what gets portrayed, when it gets portrayed, and to what extent. When one thinks of who has the power when making a map, they usually think the cartographer would, and to a certain extent that is correct. But, who has the power over the cartographer? Their boss(es), the government, people with more economic and social power. This involves the idea of dominating power, where it presents the interests of those in a specific class, race, sexual orientation, gender, ability level, socio-economic status and so on. This is the same issue with weather maps. The creator of the map has a certain agenda and a certain set of information they need to get across, which may not be the most beneficial for some viewers due to differences in power dynamics. This simulator shows the extent to which power affects our understanding of countries (specifically the size of countries) around the world. The map in figure one, from this Washington Post news article, shows a perspective of the US, Canada, and other countries’ possible trade routes through the arctic ocean that was previously not considered. It shows that a map’s center can drastically alter how it is read and the audience it was made for.

FIGURE 1     

 

Maps of natural disasters often play into the idea of global hierarchies and the power dynamic that goes with them. There have been many crises (whether natural disasters or other) that would not get reported in the US news. Is it because those events and people aren’t important? Kind of, yes. If these catastrophes have no influence or impact in powerful countries no one in those countries would hear about them. The only reason people in China or Russia, for example, would hear about what is happening in the US is because the US has an impact on their economies and societies, and vice versa.

Hurricanes are serious and sometimes even fatal natural disasters, but can the map of a hurricane’s path affect how viewers respond to the severity of the storm? Hurricane Florence is set to travel up the east coast this week, but some of the maps showing the path of the storm are misleading, and confusing. For example, the map in figure two from the Boston Globe shows probabilities of wind speeds for the storm. At first glance, someone in Pennsylvania or West Virginia would assume that the storm would not hit their area. However, the map in figure three, from the same Boston Globe article, shows the storm Covering most of Pennsylvania, all of West Virginia and parts of states even further out than those.

FIGURE 2

 

FIGURE 3  

 

                 While it makes sense for these maps and maps of other weather events to be from the perspective of those it is affecting, sometimes the perspective the map was made for (or the map’s center) can influence its accuracy. For example, the map below in figure four is a map of the same storm as shown above. This map from a BBC news article makes many assumptions about who the viewer is and their knowledge of certain places. If someone from the US was looking at this map, they would only be able to see that it would hit the middle of the east coast. It also assumes that every person knows how to read military time, which is not always the case. The information in this map is not communicated clearly and would not be very helpful to someone concerned about the storm. Additionally, it would impede someone’s understanding of the storm because, with the lack of information, the scale, size, and strength of the storm cannot be determined. It fails to address the other side effects of the storm that the islands experienced, like wind speeds and harmful waves.

FIGURE 4  

 

                 Some might argue that these maps are perfectly accurate for what they are made for. The first map does show probable wind speeds for certain areas from Tuesday 9/11 to Sunday 9/16. However, the conditional information that is needed to understand the map is not clearly presented and would easily be looked over by someone who did not know how to read it. The second map, one could say, is perfectly accurate as well, and that the relevant information is clearly displayed in the image. At first glance though, one would look at the map and assume the differing colors are a representation of wind speed or rain fall predicted for that area, but, the colors show an area’s probability to experience prolonged winds of thirty-nine miles-per-hour winds or greater. Along with those confusing elements, both maps are lacking a distance scale. Instead, they use latitude and longitude markings, which would be helpful to those who know how to read that. This relates back to map-makers making assumptions about who is going to be reading the map and what they know. Someone could also argue that the last map shown is an accurate representation of the position of the hurricane depending on time. However, the distance scale they used requires a sort of measuring tool for someone to know the distance the storm is from the coast at a certain time. Through the exploration of these maps, I’ve found that many cartographers assume their audience already knows how to read maps perfectly, but in the situation of natural disasters, these assumptions and biases can be confusing and even dangerous.