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And now for something completely different

June 25, 2010
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I am interrupting this (ir)regularly scheduled eco-blog for a wee rant about the atrocious “service” our non-profit society has received from #Telus.  Being a small town, our selection of telephone service providers is limited to #Telus so if you don’t like it, you can take your business … well, nowhere I guess. (NB: I was advised that many companies regularly troll the internet for mentions so they can mitigate any possible online negativity, so I’m using hashtags in the hope that I might get a quicker response than my email directly to the CEO has received.)

When I was researching costs for our funding application last summer, I called #Telus and explained exactly what we were doing (short-term office with 4 staff so will need 4 phone lines, plus fax & internet – no contract) and was quoted some pricing.  I quizzed the sales rep extensively to be sure I wasn’t missing anything, including taxes and the dreaded ‘extra fees’ like 911 service and all that and was assured that I had all the costs.

When the funding was approved, I went ahead and set up our telephone service exactly as discussed months earlier so imagine my surprise when the first bill came through and it was more than $100 over what I had been quoted!!  Over the term of our 9-month funding, that would put us almost $1000 over budget on phone service.  I called immediately, of course, and explained the situation and was assured there would be a credit.  The following month’s bill arrived and there was no credit anywhere to be seen, and our billing was still $100 more than quoted.  This dragged on for another 3 months until I finally was able to hit upon a Telus representative who actually knew what they were doing and was able to fix our account properly.  This seems to be the trick:  one must keep calling and calling and calling until you can find that magical #Telus employee (as difficult to find as a leprachaun with a pot of gold) who actually knows what they are doing.

Our funding is ending this month (today in fact) and as we have been unable to secure long-term funding yet, we need to cut costs drastically.  The absolute cheapest rate I could get at Telus amounts to almost $60 per month which is well out of our budget.  They don’t even have a way that you can keep the number alive cheaply with just a voicemail box or something.  And so I started looking at cel phones and we decided that a Pay-As-You-Go phone would be the cheapest at $10/month minimum; unfortunately, this would mean losing the phone number we have established over the last 9 months, but there was nothing else for it.

I went into the #Telus Mobility dealer to pick up the phone and there I discovered that if we signed up for a #Telus Mobility 2-year contract ($20/month), we COULD port our number over.  Hurrah!  What follows is the letter I sent to the CEO of #Telus on Monday, June 21 briefly outlining my experience with this:

Hi,

After spending many hours waiting on hold and speaking with more than a dozen different representatives at Telus, Telus Mobility and the Porting Administration Centre as well as several visits to the local Telus Mobility dealer, I have at last been advised that I should write an email to you to resolve the issue of whether or not we can port our number from a Telus landline to a Telus Mobility cel phone.

Pebble in the Pond is a small environmental non-profit society.  In October, we received short-term funding to start up an office and because the funding was short-term, we did not sign a contract for telephone service; however, we hoped to secure longer-term funding before it expired and sign a contract then.  Unfortunately, we were not successful and this funding runs out on Friday June 25.

We’ve been running the office for 9 months now and I’m sure you can understand that keeping the existing phone number is very important.  The cheapest possible rate I could get from a Telus representative amounted to roughly $60/month with all taxes & fees.  We can’t afford this so I looked into the possibility of getting a cel account.  In my hours of investigations and dealer visits, I was advised on June 10 that if I signed a contract for cel service, we could port the number over.  Hurrah!!  I should point out here that at every step of the way, each representative asked me what my existing phone number is.

As we still needed the landlines until this week, I waited until today to do the switch.  Unfortunately when I went into the dealer, the cel phone in question was not in stock and, although they have ordered it, I won’t know until Thursday afternoon if they will get it. I decided that if I couldn’t walk out with a cel phone, it didn’t make any difference whether I did the switch at the dealer or over the phone so I called in to make the switch.

Imagine my shock after the hours of investigation I had done earlier when I was advised that our number can not be ported over to Telus Mobility!  Of course, I questioned this and was referred to the Porting Administration Centre who advised that the number could be ported but that it would not be a local Powell River number.  The reason given was that “there is no local calling zone that matches the one I have now.”  I asked the representative at the Porting Administration Centre (Mike) what the local calling zone is and he explained that it is the first 6 digits of the phone number.

This makes no sense to me at all because I personally know many Telus Mobility customers in Powell River whose numbers all start with the same 6 digits that our number starts with:  604-483-xxxx.   I pointed this out to Mike but he could not explain any further and referred me to Telus engineering at 310-2255.  I spent more than an hour on hold (and somehow wound up being transferred away from that number) and spoke to a couple of representatives, the last of whom finally told me I should email you for a resolution to this matter.

Please contact me ASAP as we must get this matter sorted out early this week before our funding runs out.

To this, I received an auto response advising me that the #Telus’ “commitment is to address your email within five business days.”  Today is day four, and my rage-o-meter is still firmly at 11 …

Anyone else have a similar experience and wish to vent?  Our lines are open.  Well, for the time being anyway …  The eco-blog will resume shortly.  Thank you so much for your attention.

*** UPDATE *** It works!!! Within 40 minutes of this blog post, I got a call from the CEO’s office.  This doesn’t make any sense to them either.  Am I surprised?  Not one bit!

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Hindsighters: Seven Plastic Lessons Learned

June 18, 2010

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My t.v. doesn’t listen when I give it pieces of my mind
it keeps making everything the same size
pain is pleasure when it’s televised

plastic is forever

artificial florists
sell you flowers that will never die
they cut down the real forests
for paper petals engraved with borrowed lies

(lyrics from Plastic is ForeverSam Phillips )

Friday was my final day at Pebble in the Pond’s office (soon to be relocated to the address shown in the header), and I figured a little parting  ‘hindsighter’ of my own is due.

We learned a lot of things here during the JCP project — and the work is on-going with YMCA-funded eco-intern Amelia Gordon on board as the next pebble to hit this pond very soon.

Apart from the huge amount of plastic facts and research into plastic alternatives, plastic reduction strategies and initiatives worldwide, most of the lessons I learned were people-based. After all, it’s not plastic that’s the problem really, it’s our abuse of this polluting, fossil-fuel-based resource. Plastic pollution didn’t just happen to us; we have been nurturing it for about half a century. And the fact that it is a social issue makes it messy indeed.

For instance, there is a lot of lobbying money and influence on the ‘plastic industry’ side. There is a huge incentive to keep plastic going: it provides jobs, and gives us access to shiny, cheap, disposable, light-weight, strong and durable products.

On the other side we have individuals and organizations such as Pebble in the Pond and Algalita who have the hard work of raising awareness that there is a problem with plastic at all,  and helping to find and fund alternatives; these can be scarce, more expensive, less convenient and sometimes, they have their own drawbacks.

It’s a world of ‘grays’ when it comes to alternatives, as we found when trying to rate different types of shopping bags. This side of the argument relies on volunteers and hard-to-come-by donations, grants and job-creation projects. The other side has the huge oil and plastic lobbies, and a widespread acceptance of all things plastic. It starts looking like a minor miracle that there is any progress toward reducing and eliminating plastics from our daily lives.  But there is some progress: We learned through our bag-count that 17% of all shopping bags used here in Powell River are of the reusable variety. Of course, despite the fact that the huge majority of these ‘reusables’ are in fact also plastic (partially recycled polypropylene) it’s a step in the right direction. There is a long way to go, but if we increase this amount by 20% per year, in the space of 5 years we will have averted 4 million plastic bags (about 3.4 MT) from landfills. And that’s just plastic bag waste!

So, here are my top 7  ‘hindsighters’
1.    Plastic: It’s everywhere; it’s so pervasive that it has become ‘environmental’. We eat from it, we dress in it, we drive in it, we live in it.
2.    It’s not immediately obvious that it’s everywhere. Becoming aware that it is, is already a huge deal.
3.    Plastics are an integral part of our ‘cheap-oil’ based  economy and culture. The same cheap, subsidized oil industry that brings us oil spills, wars, and cheap flights to Mexico.
4.    Replacement of plastics by other materials can be expensive and may cause other issues. Consumption itself has to be curtailed, with plastics at the forefront of our reduction strategy.
5.    Doing without plastic takes forethought, creativity, time, money and sacrifices. Not everyone has these attributes, energy and resources. We have to make living without plastic as easy and even as fun as possible. Maybe something akin the the 50-Mile Eat Local Challenge. (full disclosure: I help run this event)
6.    Plastic is forever. Almost all the plastic that has ever been produced is still here — somewhere. Recycling does not reduce the amount of plastic that is already here, and incinerating is extremely toxic.
7.   The good ‘bad news’: As our oil resources deplete (and hopefully not entirely into the Gulf of Mexico!) plastic production and transportation are probably going to become much more expensive. This will in itself cause a major reduction in plastic use, along with an across-the-board reduction in consumer goods, generally. If things pan out this way, this will be a painful change that will affect every aspect of our lives from the food we eat to how we get around. We can help make that transition smoother by starting to eliminate this toxic and polluting influence in our lives sooner rather than later.

Have a great summer, all!

A Retrospective or “7 Plastic Lessons learned”

  1. It’s everywhere
  2. It’s not obvious that it’s everywhere
  3. It’s an integrated part of our economy and culture – it’s ‘environmental’ in scope
  4. Replacement by other materials is expensive and causes other issues
  5. Doing without plastic takes thought, time, money and sacrifices
  6. It’s oil and there is a lot of money involved in keeping it around
  7. It’s going to become more expensive and probably that will solve many other problems.

How To Store Produce Without Plastic

June 10, 2010
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I have to admit that food storage is one of the toughest battles I faced when eliminating plastic from my life.  I’m pleased to report that I can’t remember the last time I used plastic wrap for anything, but I sure wish I had this guide when I started!  Without further ado, here is a link to a terrific post from one of my faves, Beth Terry and her wonderful blog Fake Plastic Fish:  How To Store Produce Without Plastic along with a copy of the PDF she mentions Berkeley Farmers Market Tips for Storing Produce

Enjoy!

Guest Writer Saverio Colasanto asks: “Are Biodegradable Bags Really Good for the Planet?”

June 9, 2010

Pebble in the Pond is very happy to welcome guest blogger 8-year-old Saverio Colasanto. Enjoy his piece: “Are Biodegradable Bags Really Good for the Planet?”

Saverio Colasanto, pictured here with his so-called biodegradable bag

Introduction:

Will a biodegradable bag really break down? I wanted to find out if biodegradable bags would break down because I want every plastic bag to be gone. Fish and alligators, sharks and other animals swallow them and die. If we eat animals who ate plastic, we are eating the plastic and we can get sick and die.

The Investigation
Plastic bags were invented in 1965 by Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin. In 1982, Safeway and one other grocery store replaced paper bags with plastic bags. The paper bag was invented in 1912 by Walter Deubner. But paper isn’t as strong, so you needed more, and it was a waste of trees. Plastic is also cheaper.
Because plastic bags don’t go away we’re filling the planet up with them. There are so many plastic bags in the world and even if we abandon using them, the ones that are already here will still be here forever. Humans have just made a mess. A newspaper article on the web said that “we produce 500 billion plastic bags a year worldwide and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose.” (1)
To help solve the problem, biodegradable bags were introduced as an alternative. Plastic will always be plastic, but biodegradable bags are supposed to turn into dirt. That is good because it makes new soil, so I wanted to find out if biodegradable bags really break down.

Me and my brother Nic put a biodegradable bag in a leaf pile in June 2009. Nic and I checked the bag we had buried in November, but nothing had happened.

So I decided to bury a bag of 3 earth worms in a bucket, then insulate the bucket in a protected place next to the house for the winter. I heard a mother earth worm lays about 10 eggs every 2 or 3 weeks. Nic helped me. We also put some dirt in the first bag, then put it back in the leaf pile. Earth worms should speed up the process. If there is some soil the earth worms should survive. ( 2)

On November 30, 2009, the bags website said it can up to two years for their bags to break down. On April 27, 2010, the bags website said it can take 9 months to 5 years. (3)
We pulled both bags up on April 12, 2010. Nothing had happened. The first bag was buried about 11 months. The 2 bag was buried 4½ months.

One problem is we only tested one kind of bag. So I put dirt in a compostable bag on April 14, 2010 and put it in a bucket in the sun. After only 14 days it had 3 holes in it and it was weak. This bags website says it will degrade in 10 to 45 days and fully biodegrade in less than 6 months. (4)

Conclusion
From what I discovered in my experiment, biodegradable bags are not so good for the environment because they don’t really break down, even when their filled with dirt and worms. Some might break down, or maybe these would in two more years. But maybe they are no different from a regular plastic bag. However, oxo-biodegradable or “compostable” bags do break down quickly so they are better for the environment.(5)
________

Endnotes
1. Retrieved from http://news.therecord.com/article/354044 , April 13, 2010
2. ChemRisk, A Service of McLaren/Hart Inc.: Ecological Assessment of ECM Plastic http://www.ecmbiofilms.com, page 12, retrieved from on November 30, 2009
3. Retrieved from http://www.ecmbiofilms.com on November 30, 2009
4. Retrieved from http://www.ecmbiofilms.com on April 27, 2010
5. Retrieved from http://www.degradableplastics.com on April 27, 2010

Make Your Event Zero-Waste

June 7, 2010

Click on the picture to see a clearer PDF version

If you are planning an event, be it birthday party, wedding, or fundraiser, challenge yourself to make it zero waste.  Pebble in the Pond has been involved in a few events and, through a little trial and error, have developed some strategies to reduce waste, especially plastic.  In almost any event, one of the biggest waste challenges we’ve found concerned food: preparation, service, and disposal.

We sat down with the Powell River Film Festival organizers this year and analyzed their opening and closing galas and youth camp with an eye to eliminating as much waste as possible, especially plastic.  I’m pleased to report that we diverted more than 13kg of food waste from landfill to compost, and we were able to get a sponsorship from Purica who donated stainless steel water bottles to all film camp participants thereby eliminated about 300 plastic water bottles!  Of course, those students are all still using those bottles and have eliminated hundreds more since the camp.

The final analysis of the waste revealed that we could have done better.  Most of the food for the festival is donated and, although we contacted food donors in advance and requested they eliminate plastic wherever possible, there were things that we didn’t anticipate like frilly toothpicks and coloured napkins.  Because the dye used in the napkins was unknown and therefore questionable, that couldn’t be composted and obviously, the festively coloured plastic of the frilly toothpicks contaminated perfectly degradable wood.  (NB: I spoke to the donor who provided the frilly toothpicks with their food and was advised that the frill is a safety feature to stop people from accidentally eating the toothpick or stabbing their hands or something.  How about using a food safe dye on the toothpick instead?  Honestly people!!)

But we analyzed these shortcomings and made recommendations for next year’s festival and expect to have even less waste in 2011.  We also took what we learned at the Film Festival and used it to make Earth Day a zero-waste event.  Powell River does not yet have a municipal composting system, so we asked all our food vendors to think of food that didn’t require cutlery, use disposables that would degrade in a home composter situation, and arranged for a local farmer to be on hand to collect the compost.

It should be well noted that with very few exceptions, food donors and vendors were more than happy to think outside the box and work with us to find ways to eliminate waste.  So, this blog post includes a few strategies to help you reduce or eliminate waste at your next event.  If you have any questions, please contact us!

CONSIDER!

The #1 thing to do is consider all aspects of your event and ways that you can eliminate waste and disposables. Events often depend heavily on donations so explain to your donors that you want a zero-waste event, and work with them for creative solutions to minimize waste and packaging.

For instance, if you have pretty service trays, deliver them to your food donor beforehand for plating rather than having the food delivered in plastic and transferring to your own trays at the event. It’s been our experience that donors are more than happy to rise to the challenge and often have amazingly creative solutions themselves!

DID YOU KNOW?

Pebble in the Pond’s strategies helped the 2010 Powell River Film Festival divert more than 13kg of waste from landfill to compost. Congratulations PRFF!!

The Myth of Plastic Recycling

Your municipality has a recycling program that accepts plastic so that means it’s being recycled into new products, right? Not necessarily. It’s disheartening, but recycling is a commodity and it needs a buyer. If it’s not cost-effective (i.e. if there is no buyer for that type of plastic, or it costs more to recycle than anyone will pay for the resulting material) it just gets lumped in with the rest of the garbage.

Municipalities have worked hard to get you into the recycling habit so they maintain curbside collection even though they may not have a buyer. And it’s still a GREAT habit so don’t stop now!! In Powell River, all plastics except #3 are picked up for recycling; however, only #1 and #2 plastics actually go to a recycling facility. The rest are landfilled 😦

PROVEN STRATEGIES

COMPOST!

Much of the waste from an event can be composted. Be sure to have compost buckets available and arrange to drop them off at a local farm. Be sure to use compostable service items like unbleached napkins and no-frills toothpicks. Don’t know any farmers? Call us and we’ll hook you up!

REUSE!

If you have a kitchen or dishwashing area, use REAL cutlery, glasses and dishes instead of paper or plastic. There are great deals to be hadat thrift stores. It doesn’t have to be matchy-matchy. Mix it up & make it fun!

AVOID!

Avoid disposables, especially plastic. Yes, it’s hard, but we need to make a big effort to eliminate disposable plastic from our lives. Recycling is NOT the answer – see The Myth of Plastic Recycling for more about that …

OK, you’ve read all this and you’ve done your level best, but for one reason or another it’s impossible for you to avoid disposables. Don’t fear. In Powell River, vendors like Ecossentials and Aaron Service & Supplies now stock compostable disposables. Not lucky enough to live here? More and more stores and party suppliers everywhere stock earth-friendly disposables so call a few up and throw your support behind businesses who are getting with the program. But be careful: some things like compostable cutlery can not be put into home composters so your friendly farmer won’t take it. These types of compostables typically require very hot municipal compost facilities which are not in all communities. Please visit our website for more great ideas for reducing your plastic consumption: www.pebpond.com

Upcoming Events

June 2, 2010

Pebble in the Pond has two great events coming up next week and we’d be very pleased to see you at either or both of them.

The first is the meeting of the Chamber of Commoners on Wednesday, June 9 at 7:00pm at Club Bon Accueil:

And the following evening it is our

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

THURSDAY, JUNE 10, 2010 at 6:00pm at BREAKWATER BOOKS, 6812A Alberni Stret

Everyone is welcome to attend and participate in the meeting. We welcome your ideas on how to reduce plastic garbage in our community!

Pebble in the Pond will report out on the many successful activities undertaken in the past year, and the amazing progress Powell River has made as a community. We will also provide a preview of projects slated to occur in the next twelve months. Membership fees have played a key role in helping Pebble in the Pond make a big splash that is making good waves in our community. If you’re not a member already or haven’t renewed yet, we welcome you to join us either before or at the meeting. We are also very pleased to present the following special event after the AGM: Sweetness from Ashes book reading and African fundraiser with Marlyn Horsdal at 7 pm

“Sweetness from Ashes is a confident and accomplished debut. An exploration of family feuds and secrets, Horsdal leads her readers across Canada and to parts of Africa on a journey of familial discovery. As those of us who read a great deal of CanLit know, such journeys often end in shame and heartbreak. Refreshingly, though, Horsdal’s vision is a more mature one. She leads us across her vistas with a sort of vibrant abandon. I loved Sweetness from Ashes. It’s a book for which I feel I’ve waited a long time.” Review by January Magazine. Author Marlyn Horsdal started a non-profit organization called Educating Girls in Africa, a scholarship program for girls at St. Louis Secondary School in Kumasi, Ghana. All royalties from the sale of this novel will be donated to this cause. Marlyn Horsdal lives on Salt Spring Island.

Burning Man = Plastic Man?

May 31, 2010

So I’ve been making a concerted effort to reduce my plastic consumption and I flatter myself that I’ve done a pretty good job.  I have become addicted instead to my wonderful Purica double-walled stainless coffee thermos, have successfully made canvas bags a part of my daily routine for all shopping, not just groceries, and can’t remember the last time I used plastic wrap let alone bought any.  Plastic shopping bags still somehow invade my home, usually brought in by unsuspecting friends whom I try my best not to cringe in front of as they walk through my door with their dinner party offering (or what have you) smothered in the offending item, but I don’t let it get me too down.

However, I am planning to go to Burning Man for the first time ever this year, and the amount of personal plastic I will likely be required to bring is truly staggering, almost to the point of total despair.  And I’m not even going for the entire week!  I’ve been poring through various BM guides and in order to keep out the playa dust, I will likely have to encase everything in some form or other of plastic.  Just thinking about the logistics of packing for the trip makes me feel a lot like Ms. Plastic Manners in her wonderful new short film:


Stop [Plastic] Motion
from Taina Uitto on Vimeo.

But what other material could possibly match plastic for these circumstances?  The playa dust gets EVERYWHERE and I suspect I will be ingesting quite enough of that simply by breathing without drinking it, eating it, and sleeping in it as well.  I will also need to bring a LOT of water which will be heavy enough on its own, never mind putting it in a glass carbouy.  Plus, the plastic water containers can be squished down once the water is consumed thus saving space in my teeny, tiny little Honda Civic.

I will likely invest in quite a few more air-tight stainless steel containers but the thought of the amount of plastic that I will likely be taking with me in the form of tarps and such is getting a bit overwhelming!  If anyone has any thoughts of how to minimize plastic at Burning Man, please leave a comment.