A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present at the Hudson River Watershed Alliance’s Annual Conference with my school’s sustainability director. It was a day long conference at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in the historical Hyde Park, NY. When I was approached to go with my teacher, I was super excited thinking I was going to be able to hear all about my areas watershed, its ecology and the habitat that it provides, but I was mistaken.

The first time I realized that this day was not going to be as it seemed was when I sat down with my teacher to begin planning our presentation. It went a little like this:

“So, what are we even going to be talking about?” I ask.

“Well, the tittle of our talk is ‘Community Centered Waste-Water Infrastructure,'” he answers.

“… and that is…” I prompt.

“Yes, Megan. We are talking about our community and how its sustainability efforts do revolve around poop.”

“That’s what I thought, Thanks, yup, thanks.”

The reality of going to a school with a notable Living or Eco machine is that everything revolves around it. The poop that is. My school is the first secondary school in the country that has an alternative wastewater system called a Living Machine or also commonly called an Eco Machine. This is a natural ecological system that mimics the natural filtration of wetlands and other plant based filters. My school’s was installed in 1997 as a “sexy” alternative to the failing septic system that had previously been in place. It has been successfully sending clean, filtered water back into the Middle Hudson River Watershed for more than 15 years now having recycled all of the campus’s water including the black and grey water.

At the conference, I quickly realized that the day was basically all along the same lines. Many different presenters, including me, presented about different Eco Machines that are in place all over the world. Believe me, you have never seen such beautiful systems before in your life. Some of the presenters included Skip Backus from The Omega Institute for Sustainable Living and Lauren Valle from John Todd Ecological Design. Both presented about Living Machines that they and their companies had put into different areas. The greatest part about Living Machines is that they are all designed for exactly where they are being put into place. This gives the opportunity for alternate waste water treatment facilities all over the world.

Great examples of Living Machines can be found as follows:



Recently, I watched “Erin Brockovich” (2000) staring Julia Roberts and “Silkwood ”(1983) staring Meryl Streep. Both movies are about a woman taking on a large and powerful energy company. In “Erin Brockovich” the company is PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company) and in “Silkwood” the company is Kerr-McGee. Both stories are based on true events and the company’s names and woman’s names are real. I won’t ruin the endings but if you want to watch two women take on big energy these are movies for you. What I love about both films is that the heroines are not particularly educated, are certainly not wealthy, and are both mothers. As a teenage girl interested in environmental issues I really appreciated these films, and I think you will too.


I Have a Dream

by Francisco X. Alarcón

Soñé que había
Un jardín
En cada casa

En las ventanas
De las oficinas
Crecían jitomates

La gente
Se saludaba
Con flores

No había escuela
O iglesia
Sin su jardín

Todos tenían
Buena mano
Para plantar

Y los coches
Eran algo
Del pasado

This is a poem that I came across in Spanish class and it really spoke to me. I think it was more powerful because I took it in slowly and deliberately as I was translating it. It really resonates with the root of the environmental cause being a love for the earth and humans connection to the earth. The simplicity of it makes it even more powerful. In a way it could be seen as the environmental movements version of MLKs “I Have A Dream” speech. This is certainly my dream.
The meaning is very beautiful and relevant so I felt I should share it. Here is my translation:

Dream/ A Wish

I dreamt that there was
A garden
In each house

In the windows
of the offices
Tomatoes grew

The people
Greeted each other
With flowers

There was no school
Or church
Without a garden

Everyone had
A green thumb

And cars
Are a thing
Of the past

Litter—one of the most common, adverse forms of environmental destruction. Obviously litter, as a whole, is absolutely detrimental to Earth’s natural ecosystems. We try and try to cease litter across the nation, yet people continue to drop their waste as though it was a routine. Oftentimes, people view litter as this enormous issue, and that one gum wrapper won’t change the world. People do not realize, however, the true impacts each speck of trash has on each oceanic life form. Therefore, I personally believe that the most effective way to minimize the damage resulting from litter is to discourage individuals from littering specific items of garbage and describing how each bit of waste is destructive. I am not proposing that we should never tell people to stop littering entirely; I am simply proposing that we must especially discourage individuals from littering specific items—those that are most detrimental to the environment—as well.

Various forms of waste crowd the Pacific Ocean, but those that damage the oceanic ecosystems to the greatest extent include the forms of micro trash or miniscule trash bits. Such forms of waste include cigarette buds, Styrofoam pellets, and other grain-sized pieces of garbage. These forms of trash are categorized as the most harmful because several organisms, primarily comprising a wide array of sea birds, ingest these specks of micro trash, feed them to their chicks, and incorporate them into the construction of their nests. As such, I propose that we discourage individuals from littering the “small” things because they actually have the biggest impacts. Additionally, if we pair this discouragement with reasoning, such as that premature chicklings die before they can even launch into flight as a result of being fed micro trash, the great majority of litterers may question the next time they need to put out a cigarette or through a way some tiny particle of waste. Scientifically, it has been proven that if one is directed to pick certain things out from the rest, his brain becomes more focused not only on the certain items that need to be spotted, but also on the image as a whole. If individuals had specific trash items to look out for and understood the consequences of dropping a tiny speck of plastic, fewer people would, in turn, litter not only the most damaging type of trash—micro trash—but also all forms of trash. I, thus, propose this new form of discouraging littering and believe that the results would be far more positive than simply advising the public to refrain from littering entirely.

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Nobel Conference

This past Wednesday I went to the Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN (https://gustavus.edu/events/nobelconference/2014/). The entire 11th and 12th grade classes at my school (Great River School) go to this conference every year, once everyone had arrived to school at 7:15 am we drove away for the 2 hour drive to St. Peter. The bus ride was long but it was nice to sit and talk with people in my class that I don’t usually spend time with. Once we arrived (right on time!) we went into their large hockey rink which had been covered for the day and wasn’t still being cooled, and sat in the many rows of bleachers. Some of the talks were so scientific that I got a little confused and couldn’t understand it but others were scientific yet still easy to understand. The best talk , in my opinion, was that of Harry Gray. He spoke about solar driven water splitting to create fuel that would be efficient and abundant. Harry Gray is prestigious chemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology for 40 years, and has worked at Colombia University. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and won the Wolf Award in 2004, and the Welch Award in 2009 in addition to many other awards and prizes. And on top of all those qualifications, he is a very good presenter and all around funny man! It was really awesome to hear an older guy talk very passionately about the science of splitting water which is hard and dangerous, and not only that but with sustainable energy and the goal of creating this alternative fuel. It was completely because he knew that the oil and gas companies will soon be irrelevant and useless in a world of growing populations with growing needs for earth and its beautiful and wild places. I was so inspired to look more at the scientific aspects of climate change and understand those as well as the social and justice aspects of the issue. Also, at the end of his presentation he told us about the Solar Army that he created to help with research of finding which materials conduct solar energy the best. From the Solar army Website it explains that “He recognized that young people want to do something to help the planet, and he engages them in this program, bringing post-docs and grad students in contact with high school students.” You check it out on http://thesolararmy.org/socalhs_seal/ or on http://www.ccisolar.caltech.edu/webpage/3 The rest of the day was full of speakers that were also very scientific but likewise interesting. We got to eat in the cafeteria too, and it felt like we were college. And, we got to scrimmage with the Gustavus Adolphus College ultimate frisbee team! It was enlightening and very intellectual and mostly exciting to be on a new and unique college campus.

I Am the Walrus

     We’ve all seen the photos of polar bears losing their habitat due to climate warming.  Well, now another species is going to become a poster child for climate change – the walrus.
       Like the polar bear, walruses depend on sea ice as a key part of their habitat. But global warming is shrinking the sea ice that walruses depend on……  Summer sea ice is shrinking, and appearing much farther north than ever before. The loss of sea ice has again, for the sixth time in eight years, forced over 35,000 walruses to come onto land.  The sea ice is important for the walruses because they use it to rest in between feedings.  Now they have to haul out onto the land on the coast. And this is a problem when they are in such great numbers.  When there are thousands of walruses together, they spread disease quickly among other walruses, and they run low on food, because they are all hunting for food in the same location, just off the coast, and because they are not moving about from sea ice flow to sea ice flow, they are more likely to deplete their food resources in that one area they are living.  They also can stampede when they are gathered together in such large numbers.  When they stampede, they trample some of their own calves.  And stampedes do happen, particularly with polar and brown bears on the prowl for them on land.  Low flying airplanes can also cause a stampede.
                    There is not much that can be done or anything really to stop the loss of sea ice.  The walrus will likely become an endangered species.  And we will have more reminders and pictures of walruses trying to live in their rapidly changing environment.  This is just one more reason we need to take action to address climate change.
(this is not the 35,000 walruses)

Laboratory Waste

My dad is a molecular biologist, and on weekends he lets me work in his lab. I have a lot of fun doing it, but there is one part that really bothers me. In a lab, you cannot reuse materials because everything has to be completely sterile. Additionally, the waste produced from a lab can be more hazardous than regular waste, so many recycling companies will not take lab waste. The result of this is that there are thousands of little plastic pieces that are used once and then thrown away. Every single day my dad’s lab creates at least three garbage bags full of hard plastic waste, and all of that plastic goes into a landfill somewhere. On top of the physical waste, the lab wastes massive amounts of energy. There are multiple large machines that have to be operating constantly, and the building’s energy bill is enormous. In one of the articles I read, it said that “the annual energy usage in a typical U.S. life science laboratory has recently been estimated at 4.54 GJ/m2/year, almost three times the energy usage of a medium intensity commercial building (1.79 GJ/m2/year)”. The lab also wastes large amounts of water because it requires a constant supply of distilled and deionized water for rinsing of equipment. Many lab owners do not do anything about the amount of waste produced from their lab because they do not want to spend the extra money for more environmentally friendly equipment or the extra time to re-sterilize items they have already used. However, there are many very easy ways of reducing a lab’s environmental impact, and if every lab made a conscious effort to do them it would make a big difference. One method is to keep an inventory of supplies so that you can only order what you need, and not order any surplus that may not be used. It is also better to order supplies from a company that has developed some sort of system for the reuse of materials, such as a pipette tip refill system that can be given back and used for other plastic products. To save energy there should be an over-night “shut down”, where all inessential machines should be switched off. Water can be conserved by only doing a final rinse in distilled water when cleaning equipment, and also just by not letting the tap run unnecessarily. Investing in newly developed, eco-friendly equipment can make a huge difference in the long run, as well as regularly repairing and maintaining old equipment so it does not have to be replaced. Overall, part of learning to work in a lab should be learning how to reduce waste and manage the lab responsibly. Many people go into the sciences because they want to do something good for the world, and they do not consider the unintended consequences that operating a lab has. Spreading education and awareness about how to keep a lab eco-friendly can help scientists continue valuable research in a more sustainable way.

Here are some links that have great suggestions for how to reduce waste in Laboratories:








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