The Plastic Universe - Chapter 1 (Brazil and Lebanon)

By Jacque Winberg

This is the beginning of a series of blog posts to highlight the damage that pollution brings to the world.

Plastics and other pollutants are plaguing our entire world. The United States of America is merely one of hundreds of other countries inundated by plastic and other types of pollution. In this post, I'd like to highlight two other countries effected by pollution: Brazil and Lebanon.

Flag of Brazil

The countdown to the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro seems to be spinning into to a junky mess for several athletes. With the official start date of the Olympics being August 5, 2016, the media has reported that Brazil has failed to adequately cleanse and treat the waters where the canoeing, sailing, rowing, and kayaking competitions will take place. Brazil vowed they would treat the waters in which the athletes would be competing in, but they have reportedly failed at doing that. As a result, countless news sources such as NBC News, CBS, Associated Press, and The New York Times conducted interviews and reported that Brazil's tainted waters in Guanabara Bay pose a serious risk of spreading disease and other infections to Olympic athletes. Tremendously high levels of fecal bacteria have been discovered and are known to cause diarrhea, vomiting, and respiratory symptoms. High levels of garbage can be seen floating in the future competition zone, potentially interfering with the athletes. For some, this can spoil their camaraderie, infect their focus, and damage their health. Not only does this pose a threat to the health of the athletes, but it is also a public relations disaster for the beaches and waterways in Brazil.

After careful consideration of the unsettling results, it has been decided that special Anti-microbial suites, developed by Boathouse Sports, will be worn by the U.S. Olympic team to add additional safety to the athletes participating in the water sports. The suits are supposed to feel like a second layer of skin. This measure will help guard their skin from the untreated sewage that flows into Guanabara Bay. Even though this does not prevent the highly intoxicated water from splashing into their faces, at least their skin can be prevented from absorbing it. Another band-aid to the major pollution issue is the use of Eco-Boats. As reported by The Guardian, Eco-Boats scoop up plastics and other pollutants. Think of it as a pool skimmer, but also a large vehicle. Thick and heavy plastic, bottles, and other domestic waste ends up in the waterways and these boats are designed to collect and dispose of it. They are useful in clearing the waters where athletes will compete.

Is Brazil the correct country to host these incredible and highly esteemed athletic competitions? It sounds as though we are tossing our most prized athletes into a garbage dump. The last thing our athletes should have to worry about is the environmental health risks of the game zone.

Flag of Lebanon

Another country stamped by the media as having a trash quandary, is Lebanon. In late 2015, the media reported that the diamond in the rough of the Middle East had an overflow of rotting garbage in Beirut, the capital city. Extremely large amounts of domestic waste began piling up near Beirut's riverbed and it seemed to be the new normal. Methane gas from the waste seeped into neighborhoods and airborne germs made local residents sick. They suffered from gastric and respiratory infections according to Al Jazeera America. Ultimately, the dilemma grew and has amassed into a full-fledged 1 kilometer long river of trash.

PRI reports that Shadia Khater says the most difficult part is to change the minds of the people. She and others have met a lot of resistance from the community to do something so simple as recycling. Apparently recycling wasn't a part of daily life in Beirut like it is here in Orange County, CA. Khater has been known to take extreme measures to influence change. Once she blocked a road with her car and refused to move it until people started recycling. She also asked a local priest to discuss recycling during a religious mass. She sat in the front row of the church to make sure he followed through with his promise, and he did.

News source Middle East Eye reported that non-governmental organization Cedar Environmental CEO Ziad Abi Chaker said waste is a resource. He is one of the very few people covered in the media that openly speaks about the trash crisis and provides alternatives to waste management. He'd like to increase agricultural projects by sorting out materials for urban landscapes. One unique project his company developed is an eco-board that allows vertical gardens to thrive. The eco-board is made from compressed plastics collected with an organized system of recycling and holes are drilled in them. They are then filled with soil and ready to be planted with seeds.

It seems as though we can all learn from each other. The need for better waste management and a significant increase in reusing recycled materials can truly make the world a better place. This shows me that the United States is a leader when it comes to organized waste management, and that is something to be proud of. But, there are also highly driven individuals who seek to improve the living conditions in their home countries, and I believe that these are inspiring stories that should be highlighted. In Lebanon we see people like Ziad Abi Chaker and Shadia Khater who are making unconventional impressions and changing the minds of people that were set in their ways. In Brazil, we see companies like Eco-Boat and Boathouse Sports that work to add a level of protection and help improve a disastrous situation. Now is the time to band together, pull our best minds into a common groupthink tank and create a clean wave of change that will sweep the minds of the stubborn and bring the best out in all of us, from nation to nation.