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March 2009 Archives

March 9, 2009

Friendly Chemicals

A sharp graphic representation of common pharmaceuticals which pass through the water treatment system. One of the many cute information graphics on the Good magazine website.

March 10, 2009

12,000 Bottles for 11,000 Miles

Adventurer David de Rothschild is building a catamaran from plastic soda bottles to sail across the Pacific.

The Plastiki is being made in San Francisco from mostly recycled materials, with over 12,000 2-liter bottles providing flotation for the craft. Each bottle is washed and then fully inflated with a bit of dry ice. When building my Kola-Tiki raft several years ago, I employed a similar technique of placing the washed bottles in the freezer before capping them, so that the expanding air inside pops out the dents of the plastic bottles.

Last summer bottle-raft sailor Marcus Erickson sailed a similar, though junkier craft, the Junk Raft, from California to Hawaii to draw attention to the vast amount of trash plastic polluting the midst of the Pacific.

Follow the progress of the Plastiki expedition at: www.adventureecology.com

March 12, 2009

Who Wants our Trash?

Beijing Bicycle

An article in the New York Times yesterday spotlights the effects of the global economic slowdown on scavengers of recyclable materials in Beijing.

Low worldwide commodity prices for used paper, plastic, and metal not only mean losses for community recycling programs here in the U.S. but also make life more difficult for the many people in developing countries who earn a living scavenging for usable materials in trash.

The article also provides a window into the global recycled commodities market. Who knew that so much of the paper and plastic we so proudly sort and recycle is simply shipped to China? Out of sight and mind, these recyclables end up in a country with some of the worst environmental pollution in the world. With commodity prices so low, these items may simply become trash, if there is no demand for reusing their materials.

March 18, 2009

Green River

Green River Fans

On Saturday Nathan & I headed downtown early to see the annual dying of the Chicago River for St. Patrick's Day.

St. Hatrick's Day

I'd never come down early enough before the parade to see the Plumbers Union dump the flourescent dye into the river. I had no idea there would be so many other people there to see it too!

Dancing on the Bridge

In fact I don't think I've ever seen so many people paying that much attention to the river. They were lined up by the thousands on every bridge and overlook on the streets near the Michigan Ave Bridge. I had no idea the river had so many fans, even if half of them were drunk by 10am and maybe not really interested in the river.

Despite the enthusiasm, the annual dying of the river is a sad commentary on how most people view it as nothing more than a canal through the city that can be manipulated however we please, instead of as a natural waterway that is home to fish and wildlife. The river has been moved and redirected and channelized, but it is still an important and necessary habitat in the midst of city concrete.

Ducks in a row

We soon discovered that we and the thousands of others were standing in the wrong place to view the action. This year the St. Patrick's committee had moved the source of the dye to a place east of Michigan Avenue. So we weaved through the crowd to a closer spot.

Green River

By the time we got to Michigan, the river was already turning green. We missed seeing the boat that dumps the dye! Thick clumps of orange powder floated on the water, releasing oily orange plumes which turn a brilliant flourescent green in the sunlight.

Green River

According to the Christian Science Monitor, it takes about 40 pounds of dye to stain the river green for the afternoon. The Journeymen Plumbers Union that sponsors the St. Patrick's Parade has been coloring the river since 1961, with a powerful dye normally used to detect tiny leaks in pipes. The original fluorescein dye was replaced in 1966, after a lawsuit by environmentalists, with a secret mixture of nontoxic vegetable-derived compounds.

Green River

After enjoying the sight of kayakers bobbing about in the brilliant green water, we were about to leave. But wait, a small boat was approaching! Police boats cleared the area and along came a small white speedboat. In the back, men in white coveralls stained a rusty orange were spooning a crusty orange powder from buckets over the side.

Green River

At last we had seen how they turn the river green! One quick pass by the Plumbers to dump the last of the dye, and the boat was gone. Soon tourboats and other craft were churning the water and mixing the dye to a solid unnatural green from bank to bank that glittered in the sunlight.

March 20, 2009

Stunt Dog Skis the River

I missed seeing this dog last week, but here's a silly video of a waterskiing dog tearing up and down the main stem of the Chicago River.

March 24, 2009

Cairo's Trash Collectors

Margaret sends this link to a photo essay about the trash collectors of Cairo.

The Zabaleen, or "Garbage People" in Arabic, are a sort of lower caste who perform the vital task of removing much of the city's detritus. Until the 1980s Cairo had no official garbage collection, and even today up to half of the city's waste is collected and sorted by the Zabaleen. Since they are Coptic Christians, they are allowed to keep pigs to eat the organic parts of the garbage, while recyclables are collected and turned in for a meager income.

Many of the garbage collectors live the slum neighborhood of Manshiet Nasser, where women and children sort garbage in their homes, brought back by men with donkey carts scouring the city. The neighborhood was in the news in September 2008 when a landslide from a nearby cliff destroyed numerous simple houses and killed some 50 inhabitants.

March 27, 2009

Don't Eat the Fish

Yet another study has found pharmaceuticals in the tissues of fish caught in the Chicago River near the outlet of the North Side sewage treatment plant, according to a Tribune article.

The new research has shown the presence of pharmaceuticals in sewage effluent in several cities across the country, which are then absorbed by fish downstream. Sewage treatment plants are not usually equipped to remove waterborne drugs from the waste stream, and few rivers have been tested for their presence until recently.

What effect these low-level pharmaceuticals will have on anyone who drinks the water or eats the fish farther downstream remains to be seen.

About March 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Down Chicago’s Drain in March 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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