|Get the best of Oprah.com in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletters!|
Saving Your Planet (41 posts)
In 2010, eight years after Carson sold his trash company, an artist friend in the billboard industry mentioned that the massive ads, removed from their boards, made great drop cloths for painting. The wheels in Carson's head began to turn. He found a few billboards for sale, and put out feelers to friends in the agriculture and construction industries to see if they had any use for them. Thanks to his intervention, the billboards were reborn as tarps to cover hay and building materials. "We quickly ran out," says Carson, who was so encouraged that he started reaching out to more industries—from bowling pin manufacturers to poultry farmers—to inquire about purchasing hard-to-recycle items.
Soon he'd founded Repurposed Materials, a company that turns would-be trash into valuable commodities. Torn-down billboards become pond liners, projection screens, even makeshift Slip 'N Slides. Synthetic turf from football fields is refashioned into cushioning for egg-laying chickens. And when one customer intuited that street-sweepers' brushes, stood on end, could be back scratchers for livestock, Carson sold two to the Bronx Zoo for its rhinoceros pen. "We're helping industries pool their knowledge," he says. "And our customers spend far less than they would buying similar products new."
Carson now spends his days devouring trade magazines and visiting businesses to examine what they're throwing away. "This is my second foray into the waste stream of America," he says with a laugh. "Round one, I was burying things in the landfill. Round two, I'm trying to keep them out."
Beauty the Eagle had her beak disfigured in 2005, when she was shot by a poacher. Set aside the grim symbolism of shooting an American Bald Eagle in the face, for a moment -- it's sad and brutal, yes. But what happened to Beauty is a lovely tonic. Jane Fink Cantwell, a raptor specialist at Idaho's Birds of Prey Northwest, has cared for Beauty all these years, through the hopes that her beak would grow back (it didn't) all the way to the near-unanimous call for euthanization (Cantwell refused). Beauty could not clean or feed herself, and so needed constant care and attention, and faced the possibility of never again living in the wild. Then, while giving a talk about Beauty, Cantwell met mechanical engineer Nate Calvin. Read the whole story in the Guardian for the amazing process Calvin used to fashion a prosthetic beak with a 3D printer.
The video below shows the process of fitting Beauty for her new beak. Watching it, especially the palpable nervousness of the poor confused bird, is a real nail-biter. But it worked, and Beauty was finally able clean and feed herself.
While the Guardian reports that Beauty has had problems with keeping the beak attached, to me the best part of the story is that so many people have worked so hard to help the eagle reclaim her life. "It's a story about a Bald Eagle becoming a teacher," Cantwell says. And knowing that her process of rehabilitation is ongoing is a good reminder to all of us. Transformation may not happen overnight, but it's the process, not necessarily the result, that has the most to teach us.
Saving Species on the Brink of Extinction
A Woman Who Devoted Her Life to Wolves
Then in 1948, 2,741 acres of the Fresh Kills marshlands (kill is Old Dutch for "stream") were designated a landfill. Seven years later, Fresh Kills was the largest residential trash repository in the world—and the name Staten Island less synonymous with bucolic meadows than with an epic stench.
But now Thoreau's "garden" is making a comeback—as Freshkills Park. In 2008 construction began on a 30-year master plan that calls for nature trails, a bird observatory, and canoeing. The city is also harvesting natural gas from the buried waste and using it to heat 22,000 homes (the waste is "capped" with an impermeable cover to prevent fumes from escaping). This summer the park's first completed section, a playground, is scheduled to open to the public; a pedestrian loop and the Owl Hollow Fields—which include soccer fields, lawns, and a LEED-certified rest area—will follow this fall. Red foxes and deer have already recolonized the upland forests, and park administrator Eloise Hirsh sees goldfinches on her way to work—evidence that "the land is healing itself," she says. "By turning this into something really beautiful, we want to help people be more thoughtful about what they throw out."
It's one of the most humbling experiences a city-dweller can have: gardening. I'd volunteered to work in the community garden, so there I was on a Sunday morning, crouched in the dirt, hopping up every few minutes to find someone to ask, "Sorry, this is so embarrassing, but is this a weed? Is this a plant? Or a weed? Looks kind of planty? Wait, I mean weedy?" By the end of my two-hour-long shift, though, I was already seeing things differently: noticing a spriggy vine of weediness from across the garden patch; a rustling in the purple bushes I realized was a steady stream of visiting butterflies.
These are the moments we need, when you look at a thing long enough to see what it really is. As in these otherworldly shots of migrating butterflies on Environmental Graffiti: seeming at first to be a tree branch, or a smattering of leaves, the swarms of color reveal themselves to be instead bouquets of butterflies, masses of monarchs, and reason enough to look closely.
Visit Environmental Graffiti for more amazing images of these surreal butterfly swarms. Suggested listening while viewing:Muriel Rukeyser reading her poem "The Speaking Tree": "The trunk of the speaking tree looks like a tree-trunk / Until you look again...It calls your name." What else is calling our names, if only we would listen? What else could we see if we looked, looked again?
Instant Inspiration: Photographs of Trees
Breathing Space: Favorite Places on Earth
But in 2008, Perdue terminated her contract. Morison suspects this had something to do with the camera crews she'd allowed into her barns to shoot footage for the shocking documentary Food, Inc. It wasn't until 2011 that she and her husband bought 500 Rhode Island Red laying hens—and set about doing things their way.
From the start, the hens were a revelation. They batted around Ping-Pong balls and chased each other to snatch pieces of lettuce, their favorite snack. While the industrial birds had been fragile and identical, the Reds were hardy and varied, with a stubborn resistance to disease. Perdue had demanded Morison use the company's proprietary feed, which she says routinely contained chemicals like arsenic (Perdue has said it stopped using arsenic in 2007). She fed her new birds grain, grasses, and clover to complement the worms they dug up on her 14 acres of pasture.
Recently, Morison's farm was certified by Animal Welfare Approved. While she previously "despised" her work—in addition to her guilt over contributing to toxic runoff in the Chesapeake Bay, she says, "I just felt so bad for the chickens"—she reports that "these days I'm having way more fun."
In the past few decades, overfishing—coupled with climate change and pollution—has crushed our oceans' delicate ecosystems. In 2010 the United Nations estimated that 85 percent of the world's fish were overexploited or being fished at maximum levels. Which raises the question: What's a sushi lover to do?
She could start by heading to Portland, Oregon, where Kristofor Lofgren, 30, is pioneering a guilt-free way to indulge in omega-3s. At Lofgren's acclaimed restaurant, Bamboo Sushi, you won't find overfished sushi-roll staples like bluefin tuna or unagi—but you might find sustainably caught Tasmanian ocean trout, horse mackerel, or even cod sperm. An inventive "Bamboo charcuterie plate" features "blood sausage" made from local Pacific albacore tuna. Lofgren's meticulous sourcing from only healthy populations has earned his restaurant the first Marine Stewardship Council certification in the United States.
In his view, sustainability is more than a gimmick."Fish caught with care, in a more artisanal fashion"—e.g., using low-tech traditional methods like rods or a small net—"taste better," he says. "In a massive net, all the fish are struggling and stressed-out," conditions that raise the fishes' cortisol levels, which can make their meat tougher. Lofgren's hope is to lure customers with his sushi, then hook them through education. To that end, he's offering a whole shark on the menu—for adoption (the price: a $4,000 minimum donation to the University of Miami's marine conservation program, after which the restaurant will fly you to Florida to personally tag your toothy pet). "Being sustainable doesn't just mean sticking to seafood that's caught ethically and not overfished," Lofgren says. "Our goal is to turn our customers into ambassadors."
Four years ago, Zach Balle had a successful real estate career in Phoenix, which earned him an impressive paycheck but left him unfulfilled. "There was a sense that I'd made it," he says, "and yet I couldn't ignore this empty feeling in my stomach." After a colleague offered some unorthodox advice—"Book a flight to a country you've never been to"—Balle found himself in a small Guatemalan community where many children received their lessons outdoors. "If it rained, they didn't have class that day," says Balle, now 28. "I decided I wanted to build them a school—which was totally unrealistic. But I knew if I could figure out a way to include the townspeople in the project, we could make it happen."
Armed with newfound inspiration, Balle quit his job and started researching his plan. He was dismayed to discover that even a simple structure would cost nearly $15,000 for supplies and labor. When he explained his dilemma to a contact in the Peace Corps, she told him about a method of construction she was using that transforms trash into building material. Balle decided to help her build a school in the Guatemalan community of Granados. His friend Heenal Rajani, 31, who had been casting about for a more meaningful endeavor, decided to help out as well. After local children collected empty soda bottles and stuffed them full of chip bags and candy wrappers, the resulting "eco-bricks" were placed between chicken wire panels and covered with cement to create the walls of the structure.
Their two-room schoolhouse, completed in October 2009, used more than 5,000 plastic bottles and 2,053 pounds of trash, cost less than $6,000 to build, and now serves roughly 300 of Granados's students. In 2010 Balle, Rajani, and three other friends, including Joshua Talmon, 31, officially established the nonprofit Hug It Forward to fund more eco-brick schools across Central America; so far they've built 17 in Guatemala and one in El Salvador. The San Diego–based organization, which finances the school projects partially through eco-tourism trips (volunteers can sign up at ServeTheWorldToday.com), now publishes a free online manual to help others replicate their model elsewhere around the world. "Being a global citizen isn't about swooping in as a superhero," says Talmon. "There are more wins if we all work together."
I've lost count of how many phone cases have graciously given their lives in the line of duty. It's gotten so bad that even the sight of my naked iPhone makes me anxious. So after the latest case-killing incident (ahem, sidewalk spill), I knew I needed protection stat. Elvis & Kresse's stylish phone holders come with a not-so-obvious environmental bonus: They're fashioned from decommissioned British fire hoses that would otherwise be headed to the landfill. If stashing your phone in an old hose has visions of scratches dancing in your head, you can rest easy. "Our fire-hose pieces are lined with scrap parachute silk," explains designer Kresse Wesling, which makes the interior soft and scratch-proof. The cases are available in yellow and blue, but we prefer fire-engine red. ($45, voguevert.com)
So when Seventh Generation, masters of eco-friendly household cleaners, launched a new line of soaps, lotions, and body washes this summer, I was game to get my suds on. Like any packaging, you should skip the marketing hype on the front ("natural," "pure," and "healthy" aren't regulated claims) and flip to the backside. Here, the science is transparent and promising: No parabens, phthalates (hormone disrupters that have been linked to increased cancer risk), or synthetic fragrances.
Equally noteworthy: This line is one of the first to qualify as a USDA Certified Biobased Product. The new seal discloses the percentage of materials that are made from renewable plant and marine elements versus petroleum products. All certified products must meet a threshold of 25 percent renewable resources, but Seventh Generation's mandarin-scented body wash, for instance, is 93 percent plant-based. Consider it a clean routine that leaves no residue of environmental guilt. ($4 to $8, seventhgeneration.com)
For the eco-minded eater, sushi can feel like a guilty pleasure: Much of the fish is imported from overseas or farmed unsustainably, and a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature found that more than 40 species of fish could vanish in the next few years, due largely to overfishing.
The next time you're seated at the sushi counter, you can check Monterey Bay Aquarium's handy mobile app for the best seafood choices (domestic Yellowfin tuna gets a green light, while Bluefin tuna is best avoided, both for the planet's sake and because of mercury concerns). Or you can skip the fish (and guilt) entirely and feast on vegetarian sushi. Guy Vaknin, the executive chef at Beyond Sushi, goes beyond the usual avocado-and-cucumber roll at his new restaurant, with creative combinations like asparagus and basil or kiwi and cucumber. We asked the former Hell's Kitchen contestant for tips on spotting worthy rolls at our local sushi joint or making your own at home (it's easier than you think!).
"Like any dish, you eat with your eyes first," Vaknin says. "Green on green can look boring, but picking a roll that has layers of color gets you more excited to eat." The rest, he says, is all about balance: Every soft texture, like avocado, should be paired with something crunchy, like carrots or daikon radishes. And sweet ingredients work well with a bit of spice (Beyond Sushi's mango and pickled jalapeno roll is too tasty to share—sorry, tablemates). And like most green tips, there's no need to think of it as an all-or-nothing proposition: Swapping one of your standard rolls for a vegetarian option each time you're out can add up to a big, happy impact on our oceans.