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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Small Steps, Big Impact

Good news! Americans are recycling at a higher rate than ever before - recycling rates have more than tripled over the last 30 years! This steady growth has created jobs and wages for Americans, and has supported community development. For example, according to recent data, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for 757,000 jobs and produced $36 billion in wages in a single year!

At Sub Sea Systems, employees participate in the annual International Coastal Cleanup, organized by the Ocean Conservancy. In 2017, SSS and its associates worldwide removed hundreds of pounds of plastic and other trash pollutants from our beaches, reefs and waterways.

But there’s more work to be done. While many of us are conscious of the impact of trash and waste on our environment, there are several “little things” we may be doing unconsciously, that cause a negative environmental impact.  Take a look at the typical behaviors below. Can you improve your personal efforts?

Plastic beach trash

Straws, Bottles and “To Go” Cups

You’re out and about and grab a beverage while on the road. Or, maybe you like the convenience of disposable cups at home. Do you toss the cup and straw in the trash after you enjoy your drink?  Of the eight million tons of plastic trash that flow every year into the world’s oceans, the plastic drinking straw is a top contributor to all that tonnage.  Small and lightweight, straws often never make it into recycling bins. Although straws amount to only a fraction of ocean plastic, their size makes them one of the most insidious polluters, because they entangle marine animals and are consumed by fish.

This video, released by the “One Less Straw” campaign, shows scientists removing a straw embedded in a sea turtle’s nose went viral in 2015. It’s clear that the skinny little drinking straws have a much bigger impact than most of us realize. Add in the cup your drink came in, and we’ve got an even bigger concern.  Check out for more info about straws and how they harm our environment.

Globally, we utilize a million plastic bottles per minute! 91% of those are not recycled. When you “Grab a Coke and Smile”, are you holding onto that bottle until you see a recycle bin?  Think before you toss. The ocean’s animals will appreciate it!

 Junk mail trash

Junking Junk Mail

Junk mail is an annoyance we all have to deal with. We are deluged with advertisements, offers and announcements via the USPS.  In fact, the average American household receives 848 pieces of junk mail per year! 5.6 million tons of catalogs and other direct mail advertisements end up in US landfills annually. 44% of junk mail is thrown away unopened, but only half that much junk mail is recycled- what a waste of our precious trees! Recycling one ton of this paper trash would save approximately 700 gallons of water and power the average home for six months.

While recycling junk mail will certainly help protect our environment, we can avoid receiving unwanted solicitations in the first place. Check out and find out how to remove this nuisance from your mailbox.

The Cost of Being Clean

It’s good to be clean, but equally important to be green, when cleaning up.  Some products offer convenience and are easy to use, but there is an environmental price to pay for their utilization.

One newish product on the market is wet wipes for cleaning. Once only used for babies, wet wipes are now picked up to clean up. The synthetic fibers that make up wet wipes prevent them from being compostable or recyclable. So, after a single use, they head to the landfill! In addition to negatively impacting the environment, wet wipes can be detrimental to human health. They contain a mixture of chemicals to enhance their cleaning abilities. These chemicals can be toxic and harmful to those who come in contact with them.

The image above depicts a massive “fatberg” weighing nearly as much as a school bus. It was removed from a London sewer. Water utility officials described it as a 15-ton behemoth of “wrongly flushed, festering food fat mixed with wet wipes.” It broke the sewer and cost more than half a million dollars to repair!

In recent years, microbeads have emerged as one of the top ten enemies to waterways. As the name suggests, they’re tiny little plastic beads that some companies use in products like exfoliators and toothpaste. The beads go down the drain, and are too small to be removed by waste treatment facilities. So, they end up in the water, where fish eat them. Microbeads are perfect for soaking up toxins, which are then passed on through the food chain when fish ingest them. Some states have outlawed them. If you’d like to avoid using beauty products that become fish food, check labels for polyethylene and polypropylene, and support the effort to outlaw such plastics.

Getting your wheels sparkling clean with a hose-down and suds at home? It’s a great feeling to have a shiny, clean car, but there are unintended consequences. The washoff of detergent, motor oil, and other car contaminants from the road surface into storm drains can pollute waterways. Opt to skip the home spray down, and take the car to a professional car wash, which recycles wash water or is required to have filters that clean out pollutants.

Be Healthy, But Kind

Tap on, tap off! Whether you’re washing the dishes or brushing your teeth, leaving the tap running while you do so wastes a vast amount of water. It may seem like a small saving, but soaking dishes before washing them and turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth really does reduce the amount of water you use. You use about 5 gallons of water if you leave the water running while brushing your teeth! Turn off that tap to save up to 200 gallons of water per month.

muddy hiking boots

Take a Hike or Go Jump In the Lake

If you’re a nature lover, you most likely enjoy the great outdoors through hiking or swimming. Just be sure you’re not carrying invasive species along with you on your next trek. If you have plant matter in the mud on your hiking boots, for example, take some time to clean it off. You could be carrying seeds or other plant-propagating material for invasive plants that can clog waterways, out-compete native plants for water resources, and cause erosion, leading to water pollution. Likewise, contamination of lake water can occur from toxins and chlorine on swimwear from pools. Once chlorine reaches open water, it reacts with minerals in the ocean to form dangerous toxins that take years to disintegrate. It also sickens marine life. Even low levels of chlorine in a water system leads to long-term health concerns for fish and bird populations. Make sure you wash out your swimsuit after a dip in the pool, if you plan on going into a more natural body of water later. Also, avoid bleach, which not only damages the environment, but might eat your swimsuit, too!

Electronics, Ink and Batteries…Oh, My!

Old electronics, ink and batteries travel from your garbage bin to landfills, and cause damage to our environment. Batteries can cause lead, arsenic, mercury and other harmful chemicals to seep into the earth, damaging wildlife and sea life. Ink cartridges have an even more toxic effect on the environment when they are disposed of improperly.

A staggering 375 million empty ink and toner cartridges are thrown out every year, and most of them end up in landfills. Ink printers and their ink are made up of several ingredients, most of them chemicals. The harmful environmental factors of ink cartridges can be felt even before they leave the manufacturing plant. Laser cartridges alone take more than three quarts of oil to produce! For a print cartridge to fully decompose in a landfill site, it takes 1000 years, which gives you the extent of how damaging these cartridges can be to the environment.

Fortunately, recycling batteries and ink cartridges is easy! Companies like HP , Canon and Costco  have recycling programs.

electronics in a landfill

If you just got a brand new TV, gaming console, or cell phone, you’re probably trying to figure out what to do with your old model. It can be pretty temping to just toss your aging iPhone 4S or Xbox 360 in the trash, but there’s an environmentally friendlier choice. Every year, 20-50 million metric tons of electronic waste is disposed around the world. Your old electronics are chock full of toxic stuff that should never make it to a landfill, like arsenic, lead, and cadmium. If those materials make it into landfills, they can potentially leak into our ecosystem, damaging plant and animal life and potentially impacting our food supply. Try selling your electronics, or donating them to a non-profit for re-use or recycling. You’ll not only spare our environment of irreparable damage, but you can help raise funds to help support a child or adult in need.

Taking a few simple steps can help save the planet! Sub Sea Systems encourages environmental efforts via our non-profit organization, Reef Alliance. Read more about Reef Alliance at