Recycled plastic island proposed as the solution to polluted oceans

Dutch architect firm WHIM has what it believes to be the solution to the growing amount of plastic trash in the world’s oceans. In their proposal, the plastic will be collected, ground up, washed and melted into the building blocks for an island the size of Hawaii.

The island will be 100% self sufficient, relying on agriculture to feed its inhabitants and renewable energy sources for power. Of course, the “recycled island” is currently not much more than a very basic sketch on how to deal with the growing amount of plastic waste circling the earth.

Last month, a similar project (on a much smaller scale) built a hotel in Italy – using nothing but the waste plastic found on the local beach.

To be honest, I’m not sure a recycled island solves anything – because the effort (and energy) involved in collecting all the plastic could also be used to bringing the plastic back on land, and recycling it there to make new products. Plus, a plastic island poses all kinds of problems, including the best way to anchor it. I’m also worried what will happen if a really heavy storm hits the island; having thousands of plastic blocks and buildings break free and roam the oceans is probably worse than the current situation.

Use garbage bags – Packing tip

Next time you pack, line the bottom of your suitcase with a new, large trash bag. Add your clothes, shoes, and accessories, and just before closing the suitcase, top it off with another new, large trash bag, making sure you wrap the bottom bag’s excess over the top bag.

Now, when your baggage is left on the tarmac during a downpour, your clothes have a better chance of staying dry.

The plastic bags also does double duty on the return trip: one bag holds dirty laundry, and the other covers the clothes again.

From green Ireland to the Plastic States of America

Since I travel back and forth between the US and Europe very frequently, I no longer get a culture shock every time. There are some things that still get me though. One of them are plastic bags in grocery stores.

When I come back to the US, I get really annoyed because I literally get about 5 bags (paper or plastic) for about 10 items of groceries. The excess is staggering. It is a struggle to convince the baggers to NOT give me bags. It is “are you sure?” every time. Come on, is it really necessary to double bag that bottle of cheap beer?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags (that’s roughly the amount of oil the US consumes in a day). Plastic bags cause over 100,000 whale, turtle and other animal deaths every year when animals mistake them for food.

A lot of European countries are now talking about forcing grocery stores to charge customers for their bags. I mean openly charge them. Of course, the customer pays for them either way, but when bags are “free”, they are actually covered in the cost of the food. The more bags you use, the more expensive your food. Ireland, for example was one of the first countries to pass the plastic bag tax in 2002: 33 cents if you want a bag with your purchase, which is hardly unreasonable. And guess what, within weeks, there was a 94 percent drop in plastic bag use. That is the funny thing about people – they like free stuff, even if free isn’t really free.

A Canadian In Beijing: Malled

My little dorm room came with a kettle and a cup and a few towels but not much else besides the furniture and some simple bedding. To get through three months, I knew that I’d need a few simple household items. For instance, I didn’t have a bowl or a scrub brush for dishes, nor did I have any dish towels or a good pair of scissors for cutting open packages. I also needed some self-loading pencils for the numerous Chinese characters I’m writing in school, the kinds with built-in erasers for the likewise numerous mistakes that I’ll make writing those very same characters.

Anyway, this is all to say that I needed to go shopping.

The other part of the truth (which may or may not be the bigger part!) is that I had been avoiding doing my laundry and I was completely out of underwear. Rather than hand wash a few pairs to get me through, I decided that I could probably afford to buy a few more pairs. Lazy, I know. I’m such a stereotypic bachelor right now!

With all this in mind, I grabbed my reusable shopping bags and headed to the heart of Wudaokou.

It is really hard to gauge the size and scope of a building’s interior in this city. For instance, the university has a huge canteen. The first time I explored it, I saw a large room and a lot of food being offered, cafeteria-style. The second time I went in, I noticed an upstairs and there I found another large room with separate kiosks of food like at a North American mall. The third time I went in there, I was with fellow students who led me upstairs again but this time we went through a rear door of that same upstairs room. This door looked like a service entrance, so I hadn’t questioned it, but it brought us into a hallway that led to restaurant after restaurant offering various international fare. I was amazed at my terrible sleuthing skills the two times previous.

I feel a little like Alice walking through the looking glass. I have no idea what I’ll find around every corner and I am constantly in awe at the density of sights, smells, sounds and activity here.

So, en route to aforementioned room supplies, I went into the Lotus Center for the second time since arriving. As I was walking around, I suddenly noticed an escalator at the far end of the small, main-floor, shopping complex that I had mistakenly understood to be the entirety of the “Lotus Center.” I went up this escalator and found myself in a giant mall with three levels that offered everything from DVDs to housewares, new shoes to fresh vegetables, cigarettes to shampoo.

Okay then. How did I miss that the first time?

I stood at the top of the first escalator looking around, dumbfounded, and became a bit like a rock in the riverbed of a flowing public. People flowed around and past me as I turned and waited for a relatively quiet moment to photograph the escalator.

Because I have never seen items for sale on an escalator before. The items don’t move but you do. How does that work?

Picture this: you’re the shopper and you think, “hey, maybe I’ll buy that item but I’d like to check out the ingredients first.” Then, after picking it up and realizing that you’d probably be better off without all those unpronounceable contents in your body, you’ve been carried up and away from where it belongs! Stranded at the top or stranded at the bottom with a box of cheap cookies in your hand, what do you do?

Maybe it’s a brilliant idea. Perhaps you’d look at the effort it would take to put it back — You’d have to do the up/down loop in order to be the conscientious shopper who returns an unwanted item to whence it came, after all — and then just throw it in your basket and consider buying it as your penance for being lazy? Go back into the flowing public just to put back a box of cookies? I think not. Besides, at that point in the consideration, you’d likely have talked yourself into wanting them after all! Maybe they’ll be the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted, you wonder.

Oh how the mind justifies. This is how advertising gets us.

As you can imagine, with these ideas running through my head and so much to take in, I sometimes walk around a bit like I’m in a daze. China makes me move slowly and I get jostled around and bumped into by people left and right — people who are less in a state of wonder and with more of an agenda. This was how it was for me for the remainder of my time in the Lotus Center. My little basket and I wandered wide-eyed through aisle after aisle and my little basket slowly got heavier.

I admit to being tempted by the incredibly low prices of stuff here. I bought my underwear. The women’s version was terrible and came with bows! I ended up buying a four-pack of men’s cotton briefs with some cool designs on them for a whopping 4 kuai (or almost $0.59 a pack — That makes it $0.15 a pair!) Note to self: I am bigger than a men’s medium in China; they’re kinda tight!

And what else did I buy? Well, 96 kuai later and I must admit that I’m not quite sure! I got my school supplies and some letter-writing supplies, some slippers for my cold dorm floor, tea towels, some food products, some water. All in all, it’s easy to say that things are cheap here, but those cheap things eventually cost a lot of money! I know that 80 kuai is only $14 Canadian, but I am aiming to keep this journey within budget and so I found myself scratching my head.

Did I really need the beer shampoo just because it was made of beer?

Maybe I can blame it on the televisions? At the end of every second aisle, a television set with non-stop advertising easily catches a shopper’s gaze. At least, it caught mine! I watched a few ads just for entertainment’s sake, but didn’t buy the products being advertised. Still, perhaps I was subliminally affected into believing that “buying is good” and “shopping is healthy” and “I need more stuff.”

Those discounts are alluring. I couldn’t resist.

At the checkout counter, I dutifully waited my turn and have become quite good at saying “wo bu yao daizi, xie xie,” which means: “I don’t want a plastic bag, thank you.” Everything is put in plastic here unless actively requested otherwise. They look at me strangely but accept my weird “foreign” request without much dispute. Lately, I’ve also starting following up my request with: “shijie you tai duo de daizi.” This means: “The world has too many plastic bags.”

The last time I said that, I actually got a smile.

This is a picture of my checkout line among about twenty others. If only my little camera could capture the panoramic of these views to show the whole scale of such experiences. You’ll just have to take my word for it!

Milk Bombs on Planes

We recently traveled with friends abroad. One was a new mother who was breast-feeding and concerned about the new and ever-changing airline regulations, when it comes to pumped breast milk.

Fortunately, now, passengers are allowed to bring on breast-milk, in a “closed/sealed transparent re-sealable 1 quart/1 liter plastic bag.” The problem, while maybe not obvious to many, is this: breast-feeding mothers can’t bring along the ice needed to keep the milk cold during the flight or transit. This has become quite a dilemma for mothers. Today’s NY Times had a first-person account of these travails. The author wanted to keep pumping to provide continuous nutrition to her child. My friend wanted to hedge against the problems inherent in dehydrating, long-distance flights.

Any advice, traveling moms?