Earth Day Lecture
When Josephine Miller looked out of her Santa Monica pier-front office, onto the plastic-littered beach, she was reminded exactly what she came to do. Save the planet.
Miller, the director of sustainable packaging at the City of Santa Monica's Office of Sustainability and the Environment, and her colleague Karl Bruskotter, an OSE environmental analyst, came to Santa Monica College last Tuesday to present an Earth Day special lecture entitled, "Saving the Planet, One Purchase at a Time."
The room was packed with a variety of people, from SMC students to Santa Monica community members, and even a television camera crew covering the event for the local station.
Bruskotter began with a slideshow presentation explaining the basics of what it means to consume.
The supply and distribution chain, he explained, is the basic idea of consumerism. People take from the planet such things as oil, minerals, animals and trees, and exploit them and send them to a factory, make something, distribute it, consumers buy it, use it, and eventually discard it, he said.
Inthis cycle, it is inevitable that we, to some degree, use energy, omit toxins, use water, use material, generate waste in water and the environment, and generate air pollution. Depending on the product, they all have varying effects on the environment, he said.
"We must be conscious of our own consumption," Bruskotter said. "There are too many people dependent on Mother Earth, and not enough environment to support the needs of the populations."
Bruskotter went on to explain the ways we can change our everyday habits to be more environmentally conscious. Although the ultimate goal is to consume less altogether, Bruskotter recommended starting with practices such as recycling.
"There used to be a lot of contaminated waste that would go to China," Bruskotter said. "They are refusing our trash and sending it back. Now, we are starting to realize that we really don't have anywhere to put this waste, and that we have to deal with the problem instead of shipping it away."
In addition to recycling, he said that another step is to learn how to shop green.
From food and clothing, to technology and cleaning supplies, everything has a certain impact on the environment, and everything can be bought in a certain "shade of green," Bruskotter said.
To determine what may be considered a green product, he said, there are a few areas to consider.
A product's toxicity level, which determines whether it is biodegradable, organic, or a pollutant, was one factor he mentioned.
Another factor he noted was a product's manufacturing location, and how far it had to travel to get to the store.
Bruskotter also said that the idea that labels deceive the consumer into thinking products are green is called greenwashing. Just because a product shows a green leaf on the label does not mean it is eco-friendly, he said.
In order to avoid greenwashing, he recommended researching products, looking at the ingredients, and considering how trustworthy the labels are.
Some products that can typically be trusted, Bruskotter said, are Energy Star products, as well as those labeled with the United States Department of Agriculture organic seal.
He said that the the last step to smart consumerism is simply consuming less.
"We are a disposable society," he said. "We must concentrate on buying things that will last us a long time, with good quality things that can be repaired and reused."
When Miller took her turn at the podium, she spoke about her project, which includes the ban of plastic bags and styrofoam in Santa Monica.
Miller displayed a picture of beaches of Santa Monica that were destroyed by styrofoam and plastic bags after rainfall, which portrayed the negative impact that these one-time use products have on the ocean.
"Everything comes to our beach when it rains in LA," said Miller. "The drains lead right to us, and with it, the trash."
With the successful ban of one-time use plastic bags in Santa Monica last year, Miller has successfully made reusable bags a staple in the city.
Open year-round, the OSE is located next to the Santa Monica Pier and always accepts applications for volunteers and interns. For questions regarding the environment and what you can do to help, call the OSE at 310-458-2213.