Happy Friday, everyone, and a happy start to a long holiday weekend to those in the USA! I hope that you have some time off work and can spend some time with friends and family.
Here’s what I’ve been loving lately!
1.) National Geographic’s incredible cover and crusade against plastic pollution
National Geographic is known for their iconic covers, from the haunting eyes of an Afghan refugee girl to Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon. For their June 2018 issue, they’ve done it again: created a disturbing, unforgettable image designed to call attention to the plight of our oceans, which are choking under the pressure of millions of tons of plastic waste.
This accompanying article is a fascinating, depressing deep-dive into this literal mess we’ve created for ourselves and what needs to be done to get us out of it. The scale of plastic waste across the globe is absolutely mind-boggling, particularly with regard to single-use plastic packaging and “disposable” goods.
Here are just a few of the most eye-opening facts I learned from this article:
- “Less than a fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally” and “[i]n the U.S. it’s less than 10 percent.”
- “On some beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii, as much as 15 percent of the sand is actually grains of microplastic,” which are tiny pieces of plastic that have been broken down by animals or the elements until they are difficult to see
- Even if the recycling rate for North America and Europe was 100%, it still wouldn’t move the needle on the volume of plastics being released into the oceans due to underdeveloped, nonexistent, or mismanaged waste management and recycling practices in the developing world, particularly Asia.
Anyone who has traveled through the developing world can attest to the streets choked with refuse, the plastics and other garbage sullying otherwise pristine beaches, and the overwhelming prevalence of littering. It used to drive me crazy when I lived in Peru to watch people just open a window and toss something away while they were driving or riding a bus. While there undoubtedly is an education issue here – folks may not realize the environmental impact of their actions – the bigger problem is that there often is no alternative. In Cite Soleil, Haiti, for example, garbage collection and waste management is nonexistent, so the people simply chuck their garbage into the canal that floats through the center of the slum. I’ve been there when it was filled to the brim with all manner of waste (human and otherwise), stinking to high heaven, spreading disease, and overflowing into people’s homes when the rains came. But what alternative did they have with no infrastructure to address the problem?
The good news is that this is a issue that we know how to fix and, with the proper resources and education, can. We know how to recycle, there is universal agreement that pollution exists and has a negative environmental impact (unlike the debate about climate change), and all that remains is to do something about it. Happily, nations and corporations and individuals seem to be slowly wising up, reducing the amount of plastic in their products and dedicating resources to improving waste management infrastructure at home and abroad. National Geographic has also announced the launch of their Planet or Plastic campaign aimed at drastically reducing the amount of single-use plastic consumed and discarded globally.
It’s also a problem that we can all pitch in to address. In case you were curious, here are some of my favorite ways that I’ve been attempting to reduce my plastic waste recently. What are yours?
- Recycle, obviously – as much and as often as possible, even when it’s annoying (e.g. having to take my plastic bags to a separate drop-off point rather than putting them in with the rest of my recyclables)
- Utilize a refillable water bottle instead of buying disposable ones
- Take reusable bags on my grocery and Target runs
- Avoid using disposable silverware and plates at home as much as possible and use my actual dishes instead (brownies still cut better with a plastic knife, so I just wash and reuse it over and over!)
- Purchase bath and body products in bulk and refill soap pumps, travel-sized containers, etc. from them, rather than buying convenience or one-time-use products
- Buy biodegradable doggy litter bags
- Use glass containers for food storage, rather than plastic or baggies (still working on eliminating baggies entirely – it’s a work in progress!)
- Refuse drinking straws whenever possible (still working on this one, too!)
If you’ve read this series for any length of time, you’ve probably realized that I’m a big fan of food, and particularly of trying new, local dishes when I travel. Not only do I just enjoy eating a good meal, but I also am fascinated by the cultural component of food. I love how it brings people together, conveys social values and traditions, and helps promote a sense of pride and identity.
This quick, three-minute video shares the story of Chan Hong Meng, an unassuming man from Singapore who has so perfected a street food meal that it has been awarded a Michelin star. It’s the least expensive Michelin-starred meal in the world, and despite the recognition and subsequent boom in business Mr. Chan has declined to raise the price of the dish from its original price of $1.50 USD. It’s hard not to love a guy like that, someone who works hard, shows great creativity and ingenuity, has found success, and still maintains a humble spirit.
I loved this three-minute video not only because it made my mouth water, but also because I love the idea that someone’s hard work and excellent, unpretentious product has been internationally recognized alongside some of the fanciest and most expensive food in the world.
If anyone would like to join me in a trip to Singapore for some out-of-this-world $1.50 soya sauce chicken, just let me know! I’m free for dinner on Thursday.
3.) A beautiful day on a lovely lake with a great friend
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to visit an old friend at his family’s home in northern New Jersey. Another former fellow Alaskan tour director (and traveler to well over 100 countries), Max is one of the most interesting people I know and an excellent conversationalist. He’s currently living in Costa Rica, where he is creating a multi-tiered, eco-friendly travel destination from the ground up on the country’s Pacific Coast. I don’t want to share too much here, but I can’t wait to tell you more about it as his vision takes shape! (And obviously I can’t wait to visit myself!) You’ll undoubtedly be hearing more from Max in future as well, as I can’t wait to pick his brain on a number of topics that I want to share with you.
Anyway, despite a busy schedule and the long drive, I was so glad that I took advantage of Max’s invitation to get together. Contributing to the joy of the day was the weather: a perfect, sunny, mid-to-high-70’s day that was a welcome break from the gloom we’ve been enduring all month in the Philadelphia area. Max’s parents also live right on a charming lake, which added some much-needed peace and serenity to our reunion. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to spend most of the afternoon outside, alternating between basking in the sun and seeking refuge for our winter-paled skin in the shade, as we updated each other on our lives, discussed current events, swapped travel stories, and generally talked for hours. There’s just something so restorative about sitting beside a body of water on a perfect day, particularly if the scene is completed by some great conversation with an old friend.
Well, that’s about all for this week! Today, M and I are headed north with some friends to spend Memorial Day weekend in New York’s Finger Lakes. I’m really looking forward to it; even though it’s so close, relatively speaking, I’ve never been! We’re all looking forward to the time away and getting off the grid after some challenging weeks.
I also want to take a moment and recognize the reason behind Monday’s holiday in the USA. Words often fail me to properly describe the gratitude and awe that I feel toward the women and men of our armed forces and the freedoms that we enjoy as citizens and residents of the United States of America. Thank you to all who have served, and a special thank you and warm thought toward those who have lost loved ones in service to their country. May you be loved and comforted this weekend.
Until next week!
What have you been loving lately?
What steps do you take to lessen your personal environmental impact?
Where do you go to find peace and refreshment?