Choking on Wrapping Paper

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1, 2009 by srhazen

I’m in a stage of life where I have a slew of family members and friends who have birthdays, weddings, baby showers and anniversary celebrations, and they’re all happening one right after the other.

As I wrapped a present for a friend’s wedding shower a few weeks ago, I noticed just how much waste went into the presentation of the gift. There is the box for the gift with the packing peanuts inside, the wrapping paper, the tape, the ribbon, the gift tag, the card and the envelope. As I folded the edges over the box and stuck on the last piece of tape, I sighed. Once again, I am a student environmental reporter and can’t stop the madness of consumerism that is ruining our planet.

Besides the high volume of wrapping paper and paper products I had to use to present the gift, the gift itself was also (most likely) harming the planet in its production, delivery and storage. But how can this madness end?

More than half of the paper products that Americans use each year comes from wrapping and packaging use. Most of the time, the wrapping paper has products within it or large amounts of tape that make it so that it cannot be recycled.

So what’s a consumer like me with a million gifts to give this season to do?

One of the most important steps a consumer can take is to recycle their wrapping paper. Or, better yet, use newspaper or re-used paper bags to wrap the gift. It’s not as attractive, but with creativity, the gift can still look presentable.

Buy environmentally-friendly tissue paper and tape that can be recycled or is made from recycled products. Also, avoid bows and ribbon that can clutter the gift and the landfills.

But if just cutting back on your wrapping paper use or using recycled products isn’t enough for you, try to give environmentally-friendly gifts. Chances are, if there is a lot of packaging involved, the planet isn’t being helped by the gift. All of that plastic packaging will end up in landfills or the ocean.

So when the seasons of your life roll around with a lot of gifts to give, don’t forget to remember your planet. It will appreciate not being dumped into by huge amounts of wrapping paper, tape and packaging.


An education on Earth Day

Posted in Uncategorized on April 20, 2009 by carissagrubbs

The History of Earth Day

Before I started covering environmental issues as a reporter for The Cat Scan, I never gave Earth Day a second thought. This year I will. This is a day when we can celebrate and participate in green initiatives, but also reflect on the work that still needs to be done to sustain our environment and our planet.

What is Earth Day?

(left to right): Gaylord Nelson, John Reynolds, Tommy Thompson, Anthony Earl, Patrick Lucey, Lee Dreyfus, Warren Knowles, Martin Schreiber.

(left to right): Gaylord Nelson, John Reynolds, Tommy Thompson, Anthony Earl, Patrick Lucey, Lee Dreyfus, Warren Knowles, Martin Schreiber. Photo by Marquette University

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica online, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from 1963- 1981, is responsible for the creation of Earth Day. The day was first celebrated April 22, 1970, to focus attention on the importance of protecting and sustaining the planet’s natural resources. The senator was very interested in preserving the earth and its natural resources. Toward this effort he sponsored many bills, including the Wilderness Act, of 1964.

Not Just Another Day on the Calendar

Although Nelson died in 2005, his legacy remains. It is now more important than ever to consider the state of our choking planet. More people are born every day, more animal populations are dwindling, and more natural resources are depleting. None of us can fix all of the environmental issues on our own, but we can all take time to think about our environment and the impact we have on it during our daily lives.

Local Earth Day Events April 22, 2009 earth-day

Solar Power 101 will feature U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in a Community Educational Series.

The University of Arizona will also put on and participate in many events to mark the day.

All those napkins…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 7, 2009 by Sarah

For today’s installment of “whats killing our planet” we are going to tackle wasteful product packaging that is hardly recyclable and almost always ends up in landfills.

Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs

Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs

A basic marketing principle to make a product look appealing and practical is to catch a consumer’s eye. It has become the trend to use plastic and thin films and wraps for food products to ‘keep its freshness’ (fresh seal container, plastic food wrap, disposable Tupperware, microwaveable trays, etc.) All of these new ways to keep food separated and juicy is usually plastic and disposable and ends up in the garbage.

One of the marketing revolutions that has wrecked havoc on our landfills is the “to-go pack”. This concept packages several of one type of food item into another larger box/bag and only creates more plastic or cardboard that will also get tossed. Even simple foods like carrots and apple slices can now come individually wrapped in plastic. (Um, eww?).

Wendys chicken salad

Wendys chicken salad

Other food items that do not come from a supermarket, like fast-food, can be notorious for over-packaging their food. Take Wendys for example.

They are well known for their burgers, fries and frosties. But I usually go for their salads. This is a picture of the mandarin chicken salad. (Plate not included). It is a great salad; surprisingly flavorful. However this one meal produces A TON of plastic waste. We are looking at several napkins, a plastic bowl and lid, plastic fork and wrapper, three wrappers for toppings and dressing, and a big over sized plastic bag that could be reused but rarely is.

Waste from a Wendys salad

Waste from a Wendys salad

The reasoning for this, I assume, is to keep all the food items separate until right before the diner eats. That could be right away in the restaurant, or not until after the long drive home. Either way, you know your chicken wont get cold, you lettuce wont get wilty and your croutons wont get soggy. As a salad connoisseur, I guess I can understand this.

But the price we pay to keep your croutons from getting soggy is an obscene amount of waste for one meal. And this is not unique to Wendys, or just salads for that matter. Most burgers/chicken/tacos etc., come wrapped in paper, then placed in a bag with a wad of napkins that end up in a landfill.

According to Associated Content of Science and Technology, most resaurants produce 8,200 pounds of waste per month. That equals 98,000 pounds per year. In that same year, the state of California along will generate 15 million tons of waste just from packaging from products we buy like cardboard and paper wrappers.

If we are ever going to see a change in the amount of stuff we are putting back into the ground, we are going to have to make some serious sacrifices as far as our manufactures food is concerned. In some ways, change might be in the hands of companies that produce the foods and package out burgers and salads. But there is also a responsibility left to us, the consumer. Personally, I think I am willing to start accepting soggy croutons. Are you?

This website which has some cool innovative non-wasteful packaging ideas from a marketing company in Japan, called PingMag …my favorite is the tofu balloon

When the Weather Heats Up…

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2009 by srhazen

I’m a glutton for energy use.

In Tucson, it has started to feel like summer has already begun. Yesterday I went swimming in Romero Pools, wearing a tank top and shorts. And just in case you weren’t sure, it’s only March.

When I came home from the day-long hike, I quickly flipped the switch on the air conditioning unit to cool off my sweltering house. I hung on the refrigerator door and stared for a few minutes, basking in the cold air. I stood underneath the vent in my room that blasted cold air.

Starting the air conditioner in March didn’t really faze me at first. When the temperatures blast over 90 degrees, I just want to be cool!

But then I thought about the energy I was already consuming just by flipping that switch.

As we use more and more electricity, were killing our planet.

As we use more and more electricity, we're killing our planet.

Up to half of your energy bill can be from air conditioning and heating, especially in states with extreme temperatures, like Arizona.  If you have an older air conditioning unit, the cost can be up to 20 percent higher. With two-thirds of all homes in the U.S. having some type of air conditioning unit, the energy used will just continue to skyrocket.

As the temperatures continue to increase this year, steps to decreasing your energy use could save you money and decrease the carbon dioxide emissions in the ozone. Buying a newer and more efficient unit can reduce the amount of energy used in your household by up to 50 percent per year

One of the biggest steps you can take is to make sure that your units match Energy Star regulations. If you have a unit older than 10 years old, you probably don’t meet those standards. Even if it is not that old, the new units made in the past few years are much more efficient than before. Check the standards for air conditioning units on this government Web site, and see the regulations and numerical values for the units to follow. I won’t bore you by listing them here.

If it’s not in your budget this year to change the entire unit or if you rent the place you live in, there are still steps you can take so that you’re not like me and end up wasting energy and hurting the environment with air conditioning gluttony.

While air conditioning feels great at those low, low temperatures, the suggested temperature to keep your unit set at is 78 degrees or higher. Experts suggest keeping it even higher when you sleep because you won’t notice as much. Also, make sure that when you leave for vacations or are gone from your house during the day, the unit is either turned off or turned up to 86 degrees or higher.

Follow these and you should have a lower electricity bill and a longer-lasting environment around you. Let’s end energy gluttony.

Nurdles Down the Drain

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 23, 2009 by carissagrubbs



Published by Thomas Dunne Books, 2007

Often when you think about the products you are using and their relationship to the environment, the things that come to mind include fuel, household cleaning products, food packaging and plastic. It wasn’t until recently that I started thinking about the environmental impact of the products in my beauty bag and shower caddy.  Alan Weisman, an associate professor at The University of Arizona School of Journalism, and the author of  The World Without Us helped spur the initial investigation of my beauty and bath products.

In his book Weisman dedicates a whole section, chapter 9 “Polymers are Forever,” to tiny plastics that will be left at the bottom of the ocean and everywhere else long after we are gone.

You know those body scrubs you use to exfoliate your dry, scaly skin? Well according to Weisman those tiny plastic beads, known as nurdles, get washed down the drain and make their way into our water system. The nurdles, which are used in the preproduction phase of recycling, are melted together to make any product possible. Nurdles are the raw material plastic goods are produced from. Everything from the milk jug in your refrigerator to the faceplate on your cell phone can be made from nurdles. After searching for an hour I couldn’t find the amount of plastic nurdles processed each year in the United States from any official source, but there are numbers in the billions of pounds floating around out there.

The idea of exfoliating my delicate facial skin with a tiny but abrasive plastic sends chills down my spine. Knowing these plastic spheres make their way into the digestive systems of animals in and around our oceans makes it even worse.


jojoba plant

One scrub you can be sure is not contributing to our choking planet is daily high lather scrub from the Bath & Body Works pleasures collection. The scrub is a little more expensive than some of the drug store brands that have nurdles in them, but it is full of what they call “naturally pampering ingredients.” These ingredients include sunflower seed oil and jojoba seed. In fact,  SNOI international is one large manufacturer, located right here in Tucson, that specializes in creating organic oils to be used in the natural food and cosmetics industry.

I am certainly more aware of what’s in my shower caddy now and when I run out of my scrub, I’ll be sure to not buy one that doesn’t feature nurdles.

Death by Stacks of Magazines

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 3, 2009 by srhazen

I’m getting married this summer at the end of July. Over the past two months since my engagement, I have been inundated with countless magazines, emails, phone calls and postcards from companies starving for business in the current economy.

Everyone wants my business. When one corporation, small business or person found out I had said “yes,” the flood of information began.

As my roommates and I sat picking our way through massive piles of bridal magazines one weekend, my heart sank. Here I was, a reporter and blogger for an online environmental publication, and the waste and senseless excess I rant against weekly lay in my lap in the form of a 300-page magazine.

I just looked through that stack of magazines again. I counted about 10,000 sheets of glossy pieces of paper total. Up until the last few years, the glossy paper of magazines could not be recycled and ended up in landfills across the country. That has changed, but the habits of Americans have not. According to the Magazine Publishers of America only 20 percent of magazines are recycled today. The rest end up in the trash.

But most magazines can be recycled to make tissue paper and other paper products like cardboard or even other magazines.

As our country moves into a new age of environmental awareness, will the excess waste of magazines and other large publications go to the wayside? Will Americans begin to recycle their Time and Sports Illustrated magazines and stop dumping them into landfills?

Each year, every person in the US uses about 650 pounds of paper. That is just the start to the immense amount of waste we produce to rot on our planet. Magazines can be recycled. The message needs to be put out there. At the University of Arizona alone, 3 tons of waterborne waste can be conserved in a year by recycling goods.

Without giving up on our guilty (or not-so-guilty) pleasure of reading magazines, the problem of magazine waste can still be solved. I can read all about the “ten things every bride should have in her wedding,” without the constant nagging feeling that I am causing terror in the environment for the next generations.

Most magazines offer their publications in an online format, which eliminates paper waste with the same stories and photographs. There are even alternative companies that offer full magazine subscriptions in an online reader format.

If you love print advertising or having a magazine in your grasp, rather than reading online, then recycle it when you’re finished, or pass it along to other people to enjoy.

In my house, we have a list of things that can be recycled that hangs by the recycling bin. Magazines are at the very top of the list. One less stack of bridal magazines sinking to the bottom of the ocean or a landfill would probably do a world of good.



Dr. Seuss had it right…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 26, 2009 by Sarah

Published 1971, Random House Books for Young Readers

While catching up on my current events lately, I came across a CNN story about myths and histories of Dr. Seuess books.  One of them caught my eye, so I took a closer look at The Lorax,  written in 1971 by Dr. Theodore Seuss Geisel. It is a witty and colorful tale of a creature, the Once-ler, who discovers a new land and takes over, spreading industry and building highways, driving out all the animals, and filling the skies with smoke. (What else is new?)

Seuss reinforces this concept by making the characters kid-friendly. Our cute and furry protagonist is The Lorax, who makes his home inside of the colorful Truffula Trees. He is an insightful pain-in-the-ass for the Once-ler and, throughout the book, attempts to warn him of the damage his Thneed factories are doing to the land.

“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees,” he announces. “They say I’m old fashioned, and live in the past. But sometimes the progress progresses too fast,” he laments as the Once-ler builds more highways and factories and tears down more Truffula Trees.

The greedy Oce-ler ignores the pleas of the Lorax, and continues to build more factories and tear down more Truffula Trees. As the trees come down, the animals of the area are forced to flee and live elsewhere.

“Aren’t you ashamed?” Asks the Lorax. “The things you are doing are completely ungood”

“But if I didn’t do it, then someone else would,” says the Once-ler.

Throughout the story, the Thneed industry continues to clear “the land where the grackle-grass grows” of all the Truffula Trees and pollute the waters and fill the skies with smoke.

At the conclusion of the book, when all the native animals have left and the Truffula Trees are all gone and the Thneed industry dries up, the Once-ler looks around and realizes what he has done. Once-ler is left with nothing except one final seed left from the last standing Truffula Trees…

It’s hard to imagine that the same guy who came up with “Hop on Pop” also created a masterpiece that plainly illustrates our environmental situation for both kids and adults.

The children’s book is widely considered propaganda by Seuss, specifically a satire on our species ability to invade and conquer. However many considered it a pointed commentary on the expansion of the logging industry in the early 70s. The Lorax is believed to be a representation of the great northern owl of the Pacific Northwest, which makes its home in the coastal redwoods and Douglas fir trees. See the resemblance?


The Lorax, Dr. Seuss 1971


Great northern owl, photo from Flickr

About 20  years after the book was first published, spokespeople for the loggers protested the story and considered it biased propaganda targeted at the industry. In 1989 the Laytonville California School District tried to ban the book from public libraries, but failed.

The controversies did, however, prompt some minor changes to the story. In 1991 the author decided to take out one line from the original version. As a humming fish leaves the pollution-infested waters he says “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie”. That line was removed from future publications of the book but kept in the short film based on the book produced by PBS. (As a native Ohioan, the Lake Erie reference offends me a little, however the metaphor also rhymes with dreary so we won’t look into it too deeply for now…)


Page from The Truax, by Terri Berkett 1991

The controversy also prompted the logging industry to  write its own side of the story called the “Truax” by Terri Birkett, who works in the hardwood flooring industry in Virginia and was sponsored by the national Oak Flooring Manufactures Association. This version of the story follows the same idea, but the voice of reason is a logger who convinces the woodland creatures that the loggers are doing good things for the forest because they replant seedlings and set up nature preserves. It’s an interesting portrayal of the other side of the debate; however it is a little too goofy to take seriously. I applaud the logging industry for defending its livelihood, and no one more than I will support their freedom of speech. However I still consider the industry to be detrimental to the dying ecosystem which continues to decimate thousands of acres of forests worldwide. The Lorax just reiterates what we already know, cutting down trees = bad for the planet.

Dr. Seuss is known for hit wit, his insightfulness and, of course, his sense of humor. But he should also be known for capitalizing on the importance of teaching children a tangible lesson on protecting our environment.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.”

-Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel

Related links: The Lorax Project A conservation website endorsed with the Dr. Seuss name, sponsored by Conservation International.

All pictures and photos taken from