Tuesday, January 30, 2007


If anyone missed the news, like me, you can go to http://www.wsbt.com/ and watch a video clip of the news segment. It's a great story, much more comprehensive than I thought it would be. Right now the story is right on the cover page of the website, but in case you have to search for it later, it's titled, "BILLIONS OF BAGS: Local people struggle with paper vs. plastic question".

Monday, January 29, 2007

What I have learned about filmmaking.

Being a director is difficult. There are several responsibilities to manage. The good news is that a director is never alone! If they were alone, no movie would ever be completed. This is what I learned over the weekend. It took a "heart to heart" conversation for me to realize this. Let it be known, that realizing you're not alone is the greatest feeling in the world for a director! Thanks again to the person who help me realize this.

Tomorrow I will attend a meeting with Jim Yocom of Instructional Media Services on campus at IUSB. We are going to create a rough filming schedule for the Conserve Plastic Bags documentary. Jim is the man with the technological experience that will help to get this film completed. I have done some practice shooting, but only together can Jim, Michelle and I make this movie! I am so proud that the potential of this project has grown so much, even though it is VERY SCARY how quickly it has grown! With our plan in place, Jim, Michelle and I will hopefully begin filming in a few weeks.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

San Man's Dump Spot

"Across the Nation and around the world, trash is dumped metaphorically, upon trash." This quote, from Garbage Land, struck me rather hard. I felt like a light bulb just went on and I thought, wow that is really how it is. I don't think I have ever really payed attention to the location of landfills or even to their existence. Partially is due to my exposure to them. I have only seen one landfill, that I know of, and I drive past it every weekend. It runs parallel with US 31 and has a fake barn and label of "County Landfill." Sometimes when I drive past the landfill it will smell really bad but that's all I know about it. I think however, if I was forced to live next to one I would know a lot more though.
The fact that landfills are put in poor communities is disturbing. These folks already have their own problems, obviously. And then we put a landfill in their neighborhood; Great lets give them health problems! Oh wait! These people probably cannot afford health care or insurance. So that's a pretty big set back huh? But no, that's not all of their magnificent benefits. Lets also lower their property value. As if it wasn't hard enough to build a positive community in a lower-income area already, we will also throw our landfill in! Great, who is going to want to invest money into an area that has chronic health problems , stinks, and property value is down. And oh, hopefully all of these low- income folks can afford bottled water for drinking and their needs, because soon their ground water will be contaminated.
Personally I see this as a huge problem spiraling downward. I understand these towns may be payed money to accept the landfills. However this is only a short term solution obviously, if that! I hope as I continue my reading in Garbage Land and go through this experience in stats class that this will enlighten this issue.

If you have any interest in landfill leaks I suggesting searching around for information on them, it is very scary and shocking the information you find.


I would like to share a couple of websites that I found that some may find interesting.
www.swmd.org (website for St. Joseph County waste management) has a lot of interesting statistics on the percentage of materials recycled and stuff like that. For example, in St. Joseph County, 46.5% of the materials recycled are newspapers.

The other website is for IU Northwest and had some interesting info on landfills. http://www.iun.edu/~environw/landfills.html
I never thought about much about landfills, but I find the paragraph on health effects particularly disturbing.

Friday, January 26, 2007

garbage collectors

One of the questions from the chapter one assignment of "Garbage Land" was what our impressions were of garbage collectors. I always thought they had the worst job imaginable. They have to put in long hours everyday in all kinds of weather picking up other people's heavy, smelly garbage. That impression has just been reinforced with probably more respect. There is a side to their job that would be interesting however. They get to know all kinds of people, even if they never meet them, and learn how they live by what they throw out. I live in a fairly small, clean town so I don't get much exposure to the filth, trash, and pollution to the extent Royte talks about. To which I am very grateful. But if I did I'd either move or do a lot of protesting.


So, I was sitting here doing my homework, when I decided to make something to eat. I made a frozen pizza and was looking all over the apartment for the pizza cutter. Turns out, my fiance had never started the dishwasher so it was still dirty. So, very frustrated, I opened the door under the sink to grab the dishsoap and POOF! Beaucoup de bags popped out. They were all over the floor and all over the inside of the cabinet. We have a little bag tree holder thing under there but we had sooo many bags that they were all over the place. I'm glad that we're doing this project because I need somewhere to take my bags! I know that Wal-Mart takes them, however, I don't really like the store, especially because I work for a major competitor. So I just wanted to thank you, Michelle, for caring enough, and getting annoyed, to actually do something about it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What Two Million Bags Look Like

Jeff Ashby, Director of Rocky Mountain Recycling, provided me with some interesting facts about distributing plastic bags. To really appreciate this process, though, you'll have to take note on a couple of figures (it's basic algebra, folks, nothing to get alarmed about!). Ok, on average, 65 bags = 1 lb. of plastic bags. And 1200 lb = 1 bale of plastic bags. In addition, each truckload carries about 40,000 lbs of plastic bags in bale form.

Given these numbers, that means that one truckload carries over 2 million bags in a shipment. WHAT?!? What does two million plastic bags look like? Well, wonder no more: Jeff gave me a picture of him standing on top of 2 million plastic bags. So click here to see the monstrosity for yourself!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bag Trekking

I was astounded to discover that our bags get shipped to Rocky Mountain Recycling, which is located in Salt Lake City, UT. Frankly, that journey seems wasteful. Are we really sending our bags 1500 miles away from home?

To address my skepticism, I called Jeff Ashby, Director of Rocky Mountain Recycling, for more information. I'm glad I did: Jeff works with Wal-Mart at a national level, so he was able to tell me where our bags go. Well, it's not Bentonville, AK, and it's not Salt Lake City, UT (thank goodness). Our bags get shipped to a facility in Ohio. And this is where companies like Trex and AERT purchase the bags for lumber manufacturing. Bags not sold to these companies are transported to Morristown, TN, to a company called Next Life Recycling. Next Life takes the bags and melts them down to create resin (basically, they're breaking down the plastic so that they can re-use the material to make other products).

So, to be clear, our bags don't go to Salt Lake City, UT (my mistake). But my goodness, the bags still go on quite a journey!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Dealing with Garbage

I am originally from Colombia; it is a beautiful country in South America. Unfortunately, it has very poor places where it is very easy to deal with garbage. Can you think of an experience you've had in dealing with garbage at a public venue? When I read this question, the first thing that passed through my mind was a memory of my mom asking me on a Saturday morning to go with her to “los tugurios”( we use this term when we want to refer to a very poor neighborhood near the big city garbage dumps). Why did my mom want me to go there? This is not only the question you are asking right now, but it was mine too. My mother used to go to “los tugurios” one Saturday per month to give food and money to the people that lived there; she also gave basic classes like reading, writing, sex education, religion and so on. At that time I was only 13 years old and I wasn’t sure if I was psychologically prepared to spend one day in a “garbage dump.” Getting there was a very long trip; we had to go by car then we had to park it and took a bus because it was very dangerous to drive into that neighborhood. Finally we had to take a taxi because buses don’t go into “los tugurios.” From the instance we took the bus I started to see and feel the ambient difference; I started to see garbage in the streets, and the smell wasn’t good. I also saw homeless people, garbage and more garbage… the farther we went, the more garbage I saw and the more penetrated the smell was. It was a traumatic experience because I couldn’t believe that people could live there. When we finally got to “los tugurios,” I was shocked when I saw the houses where the people lived. They were entirely made of garbage. Everything they used to build their small houses was taken from the big municipal garbage dump that was a few miles away. I had the opportunity to talk with a lady who showed me her house. The house walls were made entirely of cardboard. It was almost like a work of art. The ceiling was made of cardboard and plastic bags; her bed was an old mattress that she found in the municipal garbage dump… she had a collection of key chains that she had been collecting since she was 10 years old. All the people in “los tugurrios” knew that if they found a key chain in the municipal garbage dump, they needed to clean and return it to her. She had an entire “wall” full of key chains. She had key chains of cartons, movies, with all colors and shapes; some of them were from Aruba, New York, Japan, Cancun… from everywhere, it was amazing. She didn’t know how to read so she didn’t know that those key chains came from very far away; I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was very sad seeing how people literarily live of our garbage. They have no money, the only thing they have is the municipal garbage dump. It was a very nice experience to go there and share a few hours with the people from “los tugurios.” It made me very thankful for what I have.

Monday, January 22, 2007

What 380 Billion bags looks like

So we consume 380 billion bags each year? Wonder what that would look like? Well, I have my first idea of what it would look like (vaguely). I have approximately 80 plastic bags in a laundry bag at home. The bage is about 2 feet by 2 feet by 1 foot (or about 4 square feet) in volume. So I took 380 billion divided by 80, and the number equals 4.75 billion. That's 4.75 billion laundry bags full of plastic bags! To see how many square feet this is approximately, let's multiply 4.75 billion times 4 square feet (volume of the laundry bag), and we get 19 billion square feet!!! How big is this? 19 billion divided by 27,878,400 sqare feet (one square mile) equals about 681 square miles!!!!! Wow, that is a lot of bags. I know these are very rough estimations and might not be too accurate, but I think it gives us somewhat of an idea of how much 380 billion bags is.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Like a few others I have been avoiding stats class for a few years. I am glad I am not the only one that was scared of stats or don’t get along well with numbers. But I did the first few textbook assignments and the math review in the back of the book and feel a lot better about it.
Like many others I have a collection of plastic bags stashed away. I usually use them for small trash bags, or what ever else comes up. My mother also contributed a bunch. So I think I have a good jump start on collecting. I do recycle some things like pop cans, tin cans, plastic jugs, and glass jars but as I started to read garbage land I realized there’s a whole lot more I could be doing. When it comes to waste, I guess my biggest issue is with how much paper and paper products this country wastes and how many trees are killed before they are allowed to replenish .

Friday, January 19, 2007

First Stop: Salt Lake City

When I first contacted Wal-mart in August, they told me that plastic bags are sent to Bentonville, Arkansas for recycling. Not necessarily, as I've recently discovered. The journey is much richer than I imagined. South Bend Wal-mart stores ship our plastic bags in "plastic-sandwich bales" to Rocky Mountain Recycling, located in Salt Lake City, UT. According to Google Maps, that's a 1,481 mile journey, which would take us about 21 hours and 52 minutes to reach this destination from IU South Bend.

At this point, the vast majority of bags are sold to two domestic companies. In particular, Trex purchases these grocery bags to make composite lumber for decking and benches. Once "recycled" into these products, they are sold to Home-Depot and Lowes for the retail market. The rest of the plastic bags are recycled into new grocery bags, heavy-duty garbage bags, black plastic tarps for young plants, straw for planter beds, storage bins, tool boxes, and molded patio furniture. And a small portion of our bags goes to China for manufacturing.

Of course, this information raises more questions: How many pounds of plastic bags are packed into a semi-truck? How much gas does it take for a semi to travel to Salt Lake City? What is the cost of purchasing these bags from Rocky Mountain Recycling? Does the value of plastic bags change based on fluctuating oil prices? By asking these questions, two underlying issues now emerge: business and economics. But for now, let's focus on this moment. Our plastic bags go to Salt Lake City, Utah!!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Personal Trash Experience

In the introduction, Ms. Royte explores the question of what someone would learn about her from her trash. She is correct in that much can be gleaned about a person from his or her trash. Garbage can tell the narrative of someone’s life, especially in cases where people can no longer speak for themselves.
I was formerly employed by REAL Services where I worked with elderly people. Through the Guardianship Program, REAL Services would become the Guardian for elderly individuals who were mentally incapacitated. This usually involved placing individuals in long-term care facilities if they were still living independently. We worked with individuals with dementia who usually did not have family or friends involved in their care. There was often very little background information on a person. Guardianship staff would actually have to comb through their possessions looking for documents such as birth, marriage, and death certificates, life insurance policies, bank account information, etc. Through this program, I had many memorable experiences dealing with garbage that simultaneously triggered feelings of disgust, sadness, amusement, and inspiration.
It was interesting to not only piece together somebody’s life story, but to also find evidence of that person’s mental decline over a period of several years. For example, people who feel as if they are losing their minds will write notes to themselves. We would find little pieces of paper with notes such as “I took the purple pill this morning” and “gun under the bed”. You never knew what you might find amongst the seemingly mundane bits of trash such as fast food napkins, dirty Kleenex, and old receipts. Combing carefully through mountains of stuff, I would find plastic bags within plastic bags, each containing some trash. After tearing my way through several plastic bags, I might stumble across a $20 dollar bill amongst the litter. We would find that there was always a pattern to the behavior so that if we found cash in one plastic bag, it was likely that we would find several more just like it.
There was one lady who had been a traveling gospel singer and an expert seamstress in her younger years. She had beautiful clothes and a closet full of matching hats, gloves, and shoes. Seeing a person in the glory of their younger years gives you a connection to that person as the unique individual that he or she still is, despite the fact that the person can no longer speak coherently.
There was one house that was so dirty it had been condemned by the health department, but the home was a treasure trove of the last 50 plus years of the woman’s life. Regardless of the circumstances that brought her to our agency, this woman had once had a “normal” life. She had been married, raised children, and managed a household. She had been beautiful in her younger years and had been an avid fan of music and theatre. I was fascinated by the history contained in the home. There were old records and magazines, ticket stubs, vacation photos, children’s toys, and greeting cards. Even an old hat box from Robertson’s gave me an idea of who she had been and what had been important to her.
It was not uncommon to find that these elderly people seemed to never throw anything away. One can theorize about the psychological significance that holding onto certain possessions had for that person, but it also reminds the viewer that these people lived in a time period where they weren’t massive consumers. They lived during a time where people bought fewer things and tried to keep the things that they had. They made the most of what they had and didn’t automatically throw things away.
Of course, dealing with this much trash can be a huge obstacle. The size of the dumpster that the agency had to rent for the aforementioned home appeared to be as large as the house itself, as if one could just drop the house in the dumpster and obliterate the memories of her life.
These experiences made trash life-altering for me. Going through someone else’s trash is a voyeuristic experience and it is impossible to do so without reflecting on one’s own life. I have come to the realization that how we manage our possessions, especially towards the end of life, gives us choice, power, and dignity. Reading Ms. Royte’s book reminds me that the decision to be conscientious of our trash must start today.

Monday, January 15, 2007

my take on the whole bag....

These last few years I have felt a growing anxiety about the state of environmental affairs, getting older I guess. I do have a direct connection to the future in lieu of my child, and hopefully someday grandchilderen. I think in my earlier life I got glazed over at the topic, I simply did not believe that I could make a difference in the matter. I've grown to relish the impact I can have, and I am excited at yet another oppurtunity to do so.

I recently enjoyed a stroll through Chicago. I remember seeing a row of trees "decorated" w/ 10 or so decomposing plastic shopping bags nestled among the branches. It was like sad art. The topic resonated w/ me immediatly.

In closing, I am excited to learn statistics in a way that can be applied in a concrete and helpful manner.

Exploring Garbage Land

Hi everyone, this note is to clarify my expectations for reading Garbage Land. A couple of students have emailed me asking me questions like, "What about the section that says investigate? Is the record a detailed record or just a general record? Do I have to go to the library to find out information about the history of garbage in South Bend? Are we supposed to be recording the weight of our garbage and all that or just a general recording of what goes in the trash? Is the investigate part supposed to part of the written assignment or just stuff you want us to do and discuss on the blog? "

These are great questions to ask. It shows that you have been reading the book and taking this topic seriously.

Here's my position in response to these questions: I’d like you to make some of these decisions for yourself. It would be very impressive if you took your own initiative and recorded the weight of your trash. It would certainly illustrate how much garbage you are consuming on an individual level, AND it will provide you with data you could use for statistical purposes. Most important, recording the weight of your trash may establish a greater personal connection with this topic. I’m not, however, going to make this a "requirement" as part of the reading discussion questions. In addition, it's perfectly reasonable to select one or two reading discussion questions to answer, just as long as you demonstrate that you've read the material and thought about how the topic relates to you. And you're always welcome to share your thoughts about the reading on the blog. Posting your comments on the blog is a great place for us to engage in an informal discussion about the reading or anything else you want to say about the project.

As I told the student who asked me those questions, the reading exercises are less about me telling you what to do, and more about you creating an experience for yourself. My goal is to offer you some guidelines and options that fit within the course expectations. Ultimately, however, you have the control to decide how you’d like to master those goals. I hope this gives you enough freedom to explore the topic in such a way that you create a meaningful experience for yourself. Because I think this topic is broad enough for us to make several personal connections, I don’t think it’s my place to tell you *how* to make a particular connection. My goal is to simply offer you some ways to make those connections for yourself.

Admittedly, this may be an approach you're not used to, which is understandable. Just remember that we're embarking on a journey that most people have not taken: For goodness sake, we're learning about garbage, plastic bags, and statistics! :0)

Reactions of a New Idea

From the time I went to buy books for the class, I began to wonder what garbage had to do with Statistics. After the first day of class, it made sense how plastic bags tie into the class. Honestly, my family has never been concern with recycling, and needless to say, I do not practice recycling habits. I am an open minded person so the idea of recycling is definitely something I can began to appreciate. Looking at my own life, it is easy to see how much trash I produce as an individual. On that point, I am exited for what is ahead during the semester by using Statistics in a real life situation, learning about recycling, and help educate our community and myself on preserving out planet.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Up Close and Personal

My personal experience of encountering garbage on a public venue was when I worked for one of the largest waste management companies in the world. New (office)employees were required to ride with one of the trash collectors for a day while they completed their route. I rode with one of the commercial trash collectors whose route consisted primarily of retail stores and restaurants. What stands out the most from my experience was the stench and enormous size of the Elkhart landfill. Actually being at the landfill, rather on top of it, to empty a full load of garbage half-way through the day made me realize how much trash people (myself included) generate over time. It spread out for acres, with birds circling the dump looking for something to eat, garbage trucks coming and going at a continuous pace, and an odor that I will probably never forget. By the end of the day, I had a new appreciation for trash collectors (and a complete loss of appetite for the rest of the day).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Excited about this class

I have skipped doing this statistics class for the last two years. I feared all about it. When I got into class and heard of all the ideas Dr Verges had for the class, and some exciting things that we were to do for the semester, I was so excited. I love maths though not statistics until I learnt that I could do something exciting with maths in the community and learn how I can help others too. I think I waited for the right time and am quite excited for what is coming up next.

Announcement for Science Alive Festival

Folks, this morning I met with Amanda Serenevy, Director of Riverbend Math Community Center. We discussed several opportunities for you to get involved with the community. So please take note: On Feb. 3, there will be the Science Alive Festival from 9am-4pm at the St. Joseph County Public Library in downtown South Bend. Amanda needs three volunteers who can participate for at least one hour. Orientation will occur on-site. If you're interested, please contact her by phone (259-0097) or email (hello@riverbendmath.org). Please give her a one-week advance notice if you're interested in participating at this event. To be sure, this activity will count towards your service-learning requirement.

Also check-out other family math activities offered by Riverbend Math Community Center for more service-learning opportunities!

Personal Responsibility

Having spoke with Dr. Verges during the fall semester 2006, I was already aware of the project she was incorporating into her Spring 2007 Statistics class and was (and still am) excited to be a part of it.

I have been an avid recycler for many years and over the past year have become even more fanatical about recycling. When I pull my trash out to the curb, I try to have more in my recycling bin than I do my trash can. Despite my efforts, Dr. Verges has made me aware that only a small percentage of what I put in my recycling bin actually gets recycled, particularily with respect to plastic. This first week of class alone has made me aware of some of the issues surrounding plastic bags; such as the dangers they impose on our wildlife.

Community awareness is critical for educating individuals (myself including) on the importance of taking ownership of these issues. It takes all of us, collectively, to come together and make it our responsibility to reduce waste. Together, we can make a difference!

Thank you Dr. Verges for making this part of your course this semester and for your dedication to improving our environment.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Yea Statistics!

Honestly when asked to write what first came to my mind when I heard the word "statistics", I wrote "Ugh!" Numbers and I have never really gotten along to well and since I am a perfectionist, this class scares me. I was so excited then when I heard what was planned for the semester! I too really appreciate when teachers are able to combine real world learning to a subject that could otherwise be difficult and dull to some (not me of course). I know that I save all my plastic bags, a habit I picked up from my mother who will be a big contributor! I haven't counted them yet, but I have begun gathering all my old plastic bags and I have enlisted my family and friends to save theirs as well.

I am especially excited about the service part of this project. I enjoy planning and putting on celebrations and events, but for me the real joy of this project is being able to volunteer at the Logan's Center and work with the handicap to turn the plastic bags into something beautiful. This is the part of the project that intrigues me and the part that I feel is truly in line with my career goals and what I eventually want to do.

Although statistics still makes me nervous (because I want to do well!), I am no longer petrified of the work I will have to do and I am excited t be a part of this class. Thank you for this great opportunity, I'm excited to dive in and get started!

First Blog

I have enlisted several of my co-workers to save plastic bags to collect for our festival in April. My roommate and I have been collecting for quite awhile. I anticipate learning a great deal during the next few months & am eager to participate in the community projects!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I am really excited to be part of this statistics class and project!

Being a very pragmatic person, I love it when professors present practical ways to apply learnings to everyday life. This project also provides opportunity for community outreach, education, and improvement; I like it.

And...what a great way to associate new learnings! Soon new statistical terminology, formulas, and values will pop into my mind every time I see a plastic bag; an excellent recall strategy for learning one of the most highly anticipated classes of my entire college experience :)

My own reflections

Immediately after Dr. Verges told me about this project, I went home to see just how many plastic bags I myself have. I have a nice bunch myself! I'm already starting to save them and creating a pile for this project. I am looking forward to seeing the combined efforts of the classes and how big the pile is going to be! I'm sure it will actually be scary to see how many bags we get. But often we need visuals in order to convince ourselves that something different should be done. Maybe this project will be that visual stimulus that will do it.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Urban Cove

Like Ashley, my plastic bags were once conveniently located in the kitchen. And like Kim, it was annoying to own so many of these bags. So on that fateful night in August, I evicted my plastic bags from the kitchen cabinet. (Cabinets are basically urban coves that provide shelter for plastic bags.) Alright, honestly it was just a place for me to hide those bags from view--"out of sight, out of mind," or so I once thought. Anyway, this is what it looked like:

Not a pretty picture!

Monday, January 08, 2007


I think this project is a great way to give back to the community. I truly hope that it will be an eye opener for the area. I, myself, have thrown away a number of bags. Granted, I have a bag full of bags under my sink that I use for various things including trash bags, lunch bags, etc., however, they still go to the same place: the landfill.

First Day of Class

Today was the first day of class in my statistics classes, so I was up bright and early this morning. To be honest, I was a bit nervous--today was the day that I would pitch this project idea to my students! I tried to anticipate what their reactions might be--surprise? excitement? shock and horror?!?

To add to my nerves, we also filmed the first day of class for the documentary. Jim Yocom, Director of Instructional Media Services, had two cameras to record my lecture and my students' reactions to the project. Sure, no problem--this sort of thing happens everyday in the classroom, right?!? :0)

In short, I think today's lecture went according to plan. My students definitely responded to the project plans for this semester! And I think we have a great group of students, so I'm confident this will be an incredible learning experience for everyone (myself included). But instead of wondering what my students' thoughts are about this project, I want to hear from them directly.

So to my stats students: Please share your thoughts. What do you think about this project?