Tag Archives: waste

“There’s No Honor In Waste” -Samara Swanston

Last Wednesday, October 12th, I was invited to join Peter and the core engine exhaust group for lunch. The group included George Pakenham, Isabella B. Silverman, Samara Swanston, Karl Storchmann, Peter, and myself. The afternoon comprised of an extremely productive and informative anti-idling campaign meeting, vigorous note taking on my end for my midterm and final project, and the icing on the cake was Peter covering my meal. Thank you again Peter!

In order to get a clearer idea of who all these people are that Peter and I met with, here is what they all do. George  is the notorious man-on-emissions; an environmental activist who focuses on idling and who made the film, Idle Threat (website: http://www.verdantvigilante.com/about/george.html). Isabella B. Silverman is also an environmental activist who starred in George’s film Idle Threat. Samara Swanston “is currently the legislative counsel to the Environmental Protection Committee of the New York City Council and an Adjunct Professor at the Pratt Institute Graduate School for Urban Planning and the Environment” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/swanston-samara-80923356). Lastly, Karl Storchmann is an NYU professor of Urban Economics who’s found a great response rate from his students when offering extra credit to report idling in NYC.

Samara Swanston built off this idea to give extra credit to students but in greater detail. She said it is imperative to write an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to a government agency with the focus being on an environmental and public issue, as these issues impact everyone breathing the air in New York City. Samara ended her input with a new quote; “There is no honor in waste.”

Additional information I was given during lunch was that Karl has a youtube channel called “Idle NYC,” which closely resembles our first blog post assignment when Peter asked us to go notice idling and post some pictures or videos. Also, summer months such as June and July appear to be the peak times of year for idling due to higher demand for comfort and stronger air conditioning. What is more interesting is that idling in the summer heat and keeping the air conditioning on actually puts out even more heat into the atmosphere than the colder months of the year because the tailpipes get much hotter in the summer sun.

To wrap up our meeting, Samara and Isabella gave me two very important names to keep in mind and to share with friends, colleagues, and environmental activists. Thomas M Chan is the Chief of Transportation for the NYPD and Inspector Michael Pilecki, a commanding officer of traffic enforcement for the NYPD. Samara and Isabella told me to pass on these names to my peers and cohorts because these are the guys to write complaints to in order for something to be done in terms of law enforcement for idling in NYC. I imagine it is more productive to approach this from the top down than the other way around so that our voices have a greater chance of being noticed and heard. The most important factor in all of this is to vigorously stay on these guys and overwhelm them with complaints until something is done. Otherwise, they’re more likely to not take notice that people actually care about this crucial law and the detrimental impact it has on our environment.

Photo credit goes to our awesome waiter who’s name I did not get but I wish I had!

Me and Isabella B. Silverman, environmental activist and star of Idle Threat.
Me and the man-on-emission himself, George Pakenham.
Me and the man-on-emission himself, George (of the *concrete* jungle) Pakenham. 

The Final Snap

As everyone is well aware, my project throughout this semester has been to create a snapchat by NYU students for NYU students to become more aware of what we’re doing wrong on campus and easy, quick solutions to reroute ourselves. I think it’s so important to start with your own community before trying to change the world and that’s what I did here! NYU actually has an office of sustainability that does a lot to make sure the campus reduces its carbon footprint and waste in general. But it’s a two way street, and we have to play our part if we expect significant change to happen. What i’ve realized after interviewing the many college students that I did is that everyone is well aware that there is a problem, but they are so caught up with the business of life, that they’re waiting for someone else to start the change. And that waiting is what is dangerous.

This snapchat has been a great opportunity for me to deliver this information to the students of NYU in a way that is easy and fun to swallow. Because snapchat is so quick and easy, it is the perfect platform for this demographic, because students don’t have to take the time out of their busy schedules to get informed: I’m providing them with information in 10 seconds or less, in a way that is also entertaining.

In class, I’ve realized environmental issues are presented in documentaries in sad and miserable ways and I wanted to take the complete opposite approach tonally and try to make people laugh: because yes, the environment is in a bad place, and yes NYU has a lot of work to do to become better, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun in our activism!

So instead of babbling on about what i’m trying to do, let me just show you with these compilation videos from my snap stories:

So a huge part of the success of my project lies in viewers! It’s important to me that students are seeing the snapchat, because that is my target audience. Since I interviewed a lot of strangers and went around campus, I made every student I met add me on snapchat and the results have been great! As you can tell from the picture below, each little ten second (or less) clip gets an average of 60-80 viewers! My hope is to be able to pass the snapchat onto Peter and another student can take on the role next semester to keep this an ongoing way to reach out to our NYU community and get us on the list of greenest campuses across the USA!

IMG_0534 IMG_0535

Update from the Green World Snapchat

So I wanted to update all of you guys on how the green world snapchat is going by sharing a video of some of the adventures I’ve been on since the snapchat was initiated (although those of you who follow me will already have seen this). More than anything, this project has been a lot of fun. I get to  go out and explore and learn so many things about the place that I live and the place that I go to school and I get to put all of the information into an engaging medium to show all of you. I had the wonderful opportunity to go to the Third North dining hall with Paula (my snapchat guest) to see how much food waste goes on at NYU dining halls and I feel like the collaboration really helped the momentum of both of projects! There is definitely a lot of fishy things going in the dining halls because the workers refused to tell us anything about how much food gets wasted per day or let us see the trash for that matter!  What I loved about this particular outing was how interactive it was. We interviewed plenty of people for both snapchat and Paula’s Green Street youtube channel, which was a nice way to get people informed about our work and how to connect!

Momentum has definitely been a huge part of this project since snapchat is all about continually updating people, but in order to keep it going, I really need more people following! So please, if you haven’t done so already, add greenworldnyu on snapchat! I promise, you will be both entertained and informed.

Check out the video below of my most recent NYU Campus Adventure!

The (Nuclear) Power of Art Activism

After seeing the phenomenal documentary Racing Extinction, and hearing George Pakenham speak and screen his film “Idle Threat”, I began looking at my own role in art activism. I’m in film school to tell the stories I’m most interested in; this means climate change should be a theme in my work. I reflected on all of my previous blog posts to get inspiration for a short film I could make in my spare time. In the end I chose to further explore my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy” through stop motion photography. As I brainstormed ideas, I thought about my favorite scenery in and around New York. I immediately thought of Rockaway Beach, where I spend many of my summer days, and Bear Mountain, where I go to escape the city and work up a sweat hiking. I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose toxins and contaminates with the beauty of nature. Clearly I wouldn’t be using real nuclear waste in my film, so I thought Holi powder would be an interesting visual stand-in for toxins. I began shooting stills on Rockaway Beach and Bear Mountain with these powders.

Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain
Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach

I focused on hands at first to play with the concept of a foreign, toxic substance in direct contact with the human body. I went on to take photographs of faces and entire bodies covered in these saturated hues.




I’m still working on finishing and uploading my film online. I want to make it easily accessible to spread awareness about the harm of exposure to nuclear toxins. As I mentioned in my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy,” scientists think that people who were children during the period of atomic bomb testing (1940s-1960s) are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancer (National Cancer Institute).

This issue extends beyond the 1960s, because nuclear power is still widely used all over the world, and nuclear weapons are being manufactured by powerful governments. Once nuclear energy is created, we are left to deal with the disposal of the waste. There is no proven way of disposing of this waste without eventually harming living organisms. So, if we don’t have a solution to deal with this toxic waste, why are we relying on nuclear energy for our power and nuclear weapons for defense?

Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach


Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test
Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test














Please look out for next blog post, in which I will link my short experimental documentary! I would really appreciate if you shared my film so it can gain some attention before Earth Day on April 22nd!

City Seed: Relevant Info

Within the past year or so, San Francisco became the first city to ban the sale of plastic bottles.  This ban on plastic bottles will ultimately eliminate the sales of plastic bottles in public locations.  Anyone who violates the ban is likely to face fines up to $1000.  San Francisco’s goal is to eliminate ALL waste going into it’s landfill by 2020.  The city has already banned plastic bags and plastic foam containers in attempt to reach their goal. San Francisco is supported by the Think Outside the Bottle Campaign, which challenges the use of plastic bottles and promotes clean tap water.

Let’s follow San Fransisco and start this in NYC!

Check out The Story of Bottled Water , which accurately portrays the realities of the bottled water industry.

The goal of City Seed is to use already existing plastic and create something meaningful so that it doesn’t go to landfills and harm the environment.  However, we hope that City Seed will eventually educate people on how harmful plastic is to our environment and ultimately work to eliminate plastic entirely.

We are inspired by the Spunky Urban Wall Garden, which is a garden created from recycled plastic bottles in Brazil. This is a fun way to decorate a college dorm room and it looks beautiful too! We want our #cityseed plants to emulate this garden.

soda-bottle-wall-garden-1 timthumb


Our City Seed Instagram will be live VERY SOON. We will be posting our progress so far. Follow us @ cityseedNYU !!!


Green World gets a Snapchat

I have been thinking about what to do for my final project since this course began back in January. Ever since I started learning about the horrible state of the environment, I have been paying much closer attention to the circumstances around me. That got me questioning…How green is NYU?

When researching the greenest college campus in the United States, I found that NYU was not any of the lists compiled by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).  I then started thinking about all the different aspects of college life that I witness on a day to day basis that could be improved and made greener. There’s a lot of stigma around the phrase “going green” as it implies some sort of lesser standard of living where a huge sacrifice has to be made.  But that is not at all the case.   People are simply afraid of change, especially in college, where students sometimes forget to feed themselves let alone find time to worry about how “green” their habits are.

I took on a different form of research: field research, which involved going around and observing.  A simple walk around my dorm building made me realize several issues that could be easily fixed to make our campus greener and more sustainable.  If I begin with my room, I can already point out two problems:  The heater is always on in every room that I go into, and the lights are always on, even when people aren’t home.  If we go to the bathroom, my roommate, for example, leaves the shower on for thirty minutes before he goes into the shower.  The hallway?  Lights are on 24 hours a day.  The trash room? Recycling and compost are always mixed.  The dining hall?  Palladium salad bowls are non-recyclable and all take-out boxes are non-reusable.  Transport? NYU buses leaving every ten minutes leaves a huge carbon print on the city. NYU does indeed go a long way to try and stay green in a metropolitan city like New York, but there’s a long way to go .

So this a problem to say the least.  The question becomes, how are we going to call people’s attention to it.  I think the most effective way to get messages across in modern day is through social media.  So I thought it would really fun and engaging if I began a Green World snapchat, where I take followers on day to day adventures of living on a college campus.  The aim is to point out simple errors that we collectively make and furthermore simple solutions to make our school a greener one. The tone will be humorous and light to keep people my age interested.

Add me @greenworldnyu to follow my adventures around NYU green life
Add me @greenworldnyu to follow my adventures around NYU green life

The goal would be to get NYU on the list of greenest universities, and while that might take some time, there is no reason we can’t start future green world students on the right track now.

Another really great perk to the Green World snapchat is it is a great way to showcase other classmates’ projects as well.  Not only would it help them get their idea across to more people, but also would provide my project with more areas to look into.
So, here is the snapchat.  This might sound like shameless advertising, but add me!


Macklemore and Wastewater Treatment

This is Flushing Awesome

In July of 2014 American rap artist Macklemore was a part of a campaign to help the residents of Seattle Washington’s King County become more aware of the damage they create by not being more cautious with what they put in the toilet.   Macklemore took his famous song Thrift Shop and changed the lyrics for a campaign created by Seattle-based Golden Lasso.

According to Pam Elardo (director of King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division), “King County spent $120,000 transporting improperly flushed waste to landfills last year.”  This PSA program cost the taxpayers $123,000; three thousand dollars more than the line item cost for removing problem waste.

While this might seem like a difficult project to sell to a community,  Pam Elardo’s record of commitment and integrity was probably a factor in getting this project through.  An engineering graduate of Northwestern University, past member of the Peace Corps, and founder (1999) of The Living Earth Institute,   Pam is an example of one person making a difference through action and example.

While licensing for the musical portion of the “Flushing Awesome” campaign officially ended in fall of 2014, its  overarching message is still strong and helping to protect our environment.

Here is another Public Service Announcement (PSA) by Golden Lasso from this campaign:

One to Flush: PSA for King County Wastewater Treatment Division: :60 TV from Golden Lasso on Vimeo.

Having become aware of how important music is to driving the message of moving images, I can’t help but wonder about where licensing leaves off and fair use policies begin with regard to “One to Flush” and its relationship to A Chorus Line.

As an aside, working on my blog posts has caused me to become more aware of errors in grammar; which caused me to notice one in the PSA!Posession vs. pluralPossession vs. Plural

Yes, That Shit Really is Gold


I’m not sure how it happened, but I came across an article as I was browsing the internet about how it might be possible to use gold from our poop…and that it might be good for the environment too.

It seems like a crazy idea…and I wonder how someone discovered this or decided to look into it, but scientists have found that extracting gold – among other precious metals – from sludge and sewage is not only possible, but also effective, lucrative, and good for the environment. The data was recently presented at a conference in Denver by the American Chemical Society.

Many people are saying that mining gold from sewage might even be more fruitful than mining gold from ore in gold mines.

And there’s no doubt that it’s bringing in a lot of money. An Arizona State University study showed that in a city with a population of one million, there is at least $13 million worth of precious metals in the sewage.

Japan has already begun mining poop for gold, and they’re having a lot of success in doing s.  In Suwa waste facility in Nagano, Japan, the ash from incinerated sludge is producing more than 1,890 grams of gold per ton, while Japan’s world-class gold mine – Hishikari Mine – is only producing 20 to 40 grams of gold per ton of ore.

It’s not only gold that we’re finding though. There are also other precious metals, such as silver, platinum, copper, and vanadium in the sludge. Kathleen Smith of the US Geological Survey says some of these metals can be sold and used in technology such as cellphones, computers, and alloys.

gold ore to concentrate

In any process, gold has to be treated in order to be useful. In the case of mines, the chemicals used to extract metals from rock can be harmful to the environment. Using these chemicals at a water treatment facility, however, keeps the chemicals from leaking out into the environment.


The process is fairly simple. The sewage is transported to a waste treatment facility, where once the sludge is processed, the metals are separated from it. The remaining waste can be treated further to create biosolids, which are nutrient-rich organic materials produced from the residuals of treated wastewater.


Sewage right now is used largely as fertilizer, but it is not used after being processed. Not only is this a waste of how the sewage can be more effectively and healthily used, but by containing so many metals, it damages our fields and forests immensely. But in mining the waste for these metals and extracting and repurposing them, it can benefit the environment in several ways. When sludge is treated properly at waste water facilities, it turns into biosolids, which can be recycled safely and used as nutrient-rich fertilizer in replacement of chemical fertilizers. It would be useful to look into how we can use sewage and biosolids in order to rebuild ecosystems and forests that have been destroyed, as well as to restore farms and fields that are nourished with harmful fertilizers full of chemicals and pesticides.

It turns out that a lot of the precious metals that are found in our poop come from things like shampoo and laundry detergent, which use the metals to act against our body odor. This could be problematic though, since these things are not always good for the environment. I don’t think there is enough research on this, but if precious metals and other things that are beneficial to the environment can be recycled from the waste of these products, then perhaps the negative effects of these products can also be limited, or at least moderately counteracted in some way. Whatever the cause, there are a lot of precious metals ending up in our sewage facilities that could be put to much better use than for what they are currently being used.

Unprotected farm fields yield topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants when heavy rains occur.

Though I am wary to say that this is a game-changer for the environmental movement, I do think it’s an innovative and unique way to tackle the issues, especially in terms of the currently prevalent use of chemical fertilizers.

Now try saying you can’t find something good in everything…next time you’re feeling bad about something, just remember that gold comes out of your ass every day.